NL West Contender Tabbed ‘Early Favorite’ for Japanese Phenom Roki Sasaki

Roki Sasaki

Getty Japanese hurler Roki Sasaki could be making his move to MLB soon. It's looking like the Dodgers are early favorites to land him.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are fresh off spending more than $1 billion this past winter to prepare for 2024 and beyond. It’ll probably come as no surprise that the front office doesn’t plan on taking their proverbial foot off the gas pedal anytime soon. L.A.’s next potential huge splash? Japanese ace hurler Roki Sasaki.

In a May 2 article for the New York Post, Jon Heyman shared thoughts on a handful of MLB topics. One focused on Sasaki’s highly anticipated free agency. “The early favorite for Chiba Lotte wunderkind right-hander Roki Sasaki, the next great Japanese import: Dodgers,” he said. “Who else?”

Despite winning just one World Series title this century, the Dodgers have been one of MLB’s most consistently elite teams in the regular season. They’ve reached the postseason each year since 2013. This includes 10 National League West division titles, as well as four 100-win campaigns since 2019.

It also helps that two of baseball’s biggest Japanese stars – two-way player Shohei Ohtani and fellow hurler Yoshinobu Yamamoto – are calling Los Angeles home for the foreseeable future.

A Look at Sasaki & His Impending Free Agency

The 22-year-old right-hander is currently in his fourth NPB season with the Chiba Lotte Marines, and the results have been eye-popping.

In 336.2 innings pitched (56 games), he’s posted a 23-11 record with a 1.87 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 432 strikeouts. His season-long ERA has finished above 2.00 just once since debuting in 2021. It was just 2.02 in 2022. His results so far during the 2024 season have been just as good as the rest.

The hurler has posted a 1.64 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 37 strikeouts in 33 innings. The only thing left for Sasaki to do is rack up more innings in a season. He’s tossed 100-plus innings just once in his pro career (129.1 in 2022).

Sasaki has made his desire to play Major League Baseball well known. “I have the desire to play in the U.S. Major Leagues in the future,” he said after signing a one-year deal in January with Chiba Lotte, via’s Thomas Harrigan. “I’ve been communicating every year. I believe the club understands it, too.”

Harrigan noted it’s possible Sasaki could be eligible for MLB free agency as early as next winter. There might be a provision in his contract that would force Sasaki’s team to post him at his request, but those reports haven’t been confirmed.

What Could It Cost the Dodgers to Land Sasaki?

As was seen this past winter, money isn’t an obstacle for the Dodgers if they covet a certain player. After all, they agreed to pay Ohtani $700 million and Yamamoto $325 million.

What kind of contract could Sasaki land once he makes the move? That depends on when it happens. Yamamoto cashed in because he didn’t have to deal with MLB’s international amateur signing bonus pool rules. However, players younger than 25 years old who haven’t accrued six years of service in a foreign major league must adhere to them.

If Sasaki doesn’t want to wait, he can follow in Ohtani’s footsteps. He was subject to these rules upon getting posted in 2017. The Los Angeles Angels only had to commit $2.315 million to sign him.

Should the scenario play out like this, Sasaki would be a possibility for every MLB team. But of course, there’s only a handful that would likely be serious contenders. The right-hander’s preferences regarding where he wants to play are unknown. However, one has to imagine that joining forces with Ohtani and Yamamoto in L.A. is appealing.

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