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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Shōta Imanaga

We know a lot about Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but what about the other big NPB star pitcher looking to make the move to MLB?

World Baseball Classic Championship: United States v Japan Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

The Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes may be dominating the news surrounding NPB players coming over to the US this winter, but he’s not the only one potentially looking at making the move over. While he doesn’t quite have the high level potential of Yamamoto, fellow starting pitcher Shōta Imanaga is another who has been posted and will almost certainly be headed to MLB for 2024.

While we know the Yankees have been looking at Yamamoto, is Imanaga another option that they should consider?

The 30-year old left-hander Imanaga has spent eight seasons playing for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in NPB. For his career, he has a 3.18 ERA and a 1.118 WHIP in 1,000.2 innings across 165 games. He’s twice been an All-Star, and led the NPB’s Central League in strikeouts this past season with 174 in 148 innings.

Earlier this year, Imanaga was on Japan’s team at the World Baseball Classic, where he struck out seven, allowing two runs in six innings pitched. That included allowing one run in two innings in the final against the US, where he was the winning pitcher in the game, facing off against a strong USA lineup. His stuff impressed in the tournament as helped Japan take the title.

Over the past two seasons, Imanaga has been especially impressive, posting a 2.53 ERA and striking out just under 10 batters per nine innings, leading the way for the BayStars, as they made the playoffs in both 2022 and ‘23. That run includes a no-hitter in 2022, thrown against the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Imanaga has relied on his fastball a lot while playing in NPB, which sits a 91-92 mph, but can top out as high as 96. Among the rest of his arsenal is a slider, a splitter, and a changeup that has good potential at the MLB level, plus even more.

One potential drawback to Imanaga at the major league level is the concern that he’s become homer-prone. As mentioned, he tends to rely on his fastball a lot, and while that pitch has proved to be a weapon for him, he’s also seen plenty of them end up going over the fence. Imanaga has surrendered exactly a homer per nine innings over the course of his NPB career, which doesn’t sound like many, but it has been near among the worst figures for qualified starters — despite also posting some stats that are generally very good otherwise.

Imanaga is generally expected to be a No. 2 or No. 3 mid-rotation starter upon signing with an MLB team. In their annual top 50 free agents post, MLB Trade Rumors predicted him to get a five-year, $85 million deal, with some reports suggesting that the deal could reach the $100 million range. That’s obviously a bit behind what the likes of Yamamoto and Blake Snell are likely to get, which could make him an intriguing target should the Yankees miss out on the bigger names.

The Yankees haven’t been the team most closely connected to Imanaga, as much of the rumors surrounding their pitching pursuit this offseason have been about Yamamoto. However, they’re far from the only team team interested in Yamamoto, and his arrival in the Bronx is not a guarantee by any stretch. Besides that, a potential trade for Juan Soto — which is also heavily rumored — has the potential to eat into their pitching depth. Imanaga could be a very nice mid-rotation arm to throw into the mix if the Yankees see fit.