Dodgers Rumors: Executive believes Roki Sasaki could burn LA in free agency

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan
World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan / Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins/GettyImages

When Yoshinobu Yamamoto came over from NPB, it officially opened up an entire world of possibility in terms of Japanese baseball talent to tempt over to the States. Shohei Ohtani firmly planted the seed, Japan winning the World Baseball Classic over Team USA watered it, then Yamamoto coming over was the first sprout to come up from the soil.

This isn't to discount the Japanese players who came before Ohtani or Yamamoto — Hideki Matsui, Hideo Nomo, Ichiro — but the WBC and Yamamoto's arrival did seem to draw eyes to NPB more than ever before.

Aside from Ohtani, Roki Sasaki was the biggest name on Team Japan last March. At only 22, Sasaki is one of the most decorated pitchers in NPB. He's a two-time All-Star and pitched a perfect game in 2022, and his performance in the WBC drew comparisons to a young Stephen Strasburg (though we hope that his MLB career pans out a little better for a little longer than Strasburg's).

Sasaki has reportedly been desperate to get over to MLB, but due to international posting regulations and a lot of weird money issues, he'll be locked into his role as the Chiba Lotte Marines' ace at least through the end of the season.

When he does come over, though, the prevailing wisdom is that he'll choose the Dodgers and join Ohtani and Yamamoto to complete the trifecta that led Japan to their WBC victory last year. However, per Bob Nightengale, one executive believes that there are other teams who could turn his head.

One MLB executive believes there could be dark horses in the race for NPB phenom Roki Sasaki despite Dodgers being the obvious choice

The unnamed executive tapped the Mariners, Giants, and Padres as potential dark horses in the upcoming race for Sasaki, citing Sasaki's "soft-spoken, unassuming personality." The Mariners and Padres have clear ties to Japanese players — Ichiro and Yu Darvish — and the Darvish connection could be a real asset to the Padres. During the WBC, he gave Padres gear to all of his teammates, some of whom are still spotted wearing it.

Although the Dodgers still have every reason to believe they'll be the favorites whenever Sasaki does make the transition, this is a good reminder that they'll need to stay on their toes. Competition is bound to be as fierce for Sasaki as it was for Ohtani and Yamamoto, and the Dodgers shouldn't feel like they can rest on their laurels if they want to secure him.