During the spectacle of last year's World Baseball Classic, MLB fans were treated to a display of international talent on a new level. Outside of Team USA and the scattering of major leaguers across their national teams, we saw a Czech electrician strike out Shohei Ohtani and NPB stars on Team Japan narrowly eke out a victory against Team Mexico in one of the more thrilling baseball games in recent memory.
For some of the biggest up-and-comers, the WBC also had MLB implications. The players on the WBC scene, especially those who compete in professional ball in their countries, could have MLB in their sights. With the champions on Team Japan especially, who play at the highest professional level (second only to MLB) and have a well-established posting system, we were able to imagine what they might look like in a major league lineup.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, now a Dodger, had a relatively quiet WBC despite performing exceptionally well during the tournament. He was outshined by Ohtani, slugger Munetaka Murakami, and another young pitching phenom in Roki Sasaki. All eyes were on Ohtani and Sasaki, who made his NPB debut in 2021 for the Chiba Lotte Marines and has maintained a stellar 2.00 ERA since.
Despite financial implications that might see Sasaki severely underpaid if he's posted as an amateur free agent, he has reportedly requested to be posted anyway. It's unlikely that it'll happen this year, but the more time he gets in NPB, the more his stock will grow. International free agent availability begins on Jan. 15, and the Dodgers only have one prospect on Baseball America's top 50 list. Could Sasaki be a long-term goal for the Dodgers, and a possible cause for their lowered investment in this year's international free agent market?
Why Roki Sasaki might be to blame for Dodgers’ quiet international signing period
If Sasaki were to hit the market as an amateur free agent, he would not only be paid less than he's worth, but the Marines would have to accept a much lower posting fee from the MLB team he signed with. Unsurprisingly, this limits the Marines' incentives to post him, on top of the fact that Sasaki dominates for his team. Sasaki is 22 as of November 2023, meaning that he still has three years to go before he can be posted without the "amateur" label.
If the Marines do hold him until then, his price could be astronomical when he's posted to MLB. If Sasaki continues to perform well in NPB, his MLB contract could rival Yamamoto's 12-year, $325 million deal. The Dodgers are clearly establishing a track record as a destination for NPB players who come over to the United States, so it stands to reason that they would also be eyeing Sasaki.
It's possible that the Dodgers are holding off on international free agency and stockpiling money to spend on Sasaki in the future -- especially if he crashes the party in 2024. Whenever he eventually comes over, competition from major league clubs will surely match the level that Yamamoto's reached, and it makes sense that the Dodgers would want to put themselves in the best possible position to secure him, even if it means holding off on other prospects in the meantime.