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Roki Sasaki Re-Signs With NPB’s Lotte Marines, Discusses Future

Right-hander Roki Sasaki re-signed with the Lotte Marines of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball today on a one-year contract, per Stephen Wade of The Associated Press.

The deal puts to bed rumors that percolated earlier in the offseason that Sasaski would attempt to make the jump from NPB to MLB this winter. Such an arrangement would have been unusual for a Japanese player look to continue his career stateside. MLB posting rules stipulate that players must be at least 25 years old and have played in at least six professional seasons before they can sign with a big league club on anything other than a minor league contract.

Some players (most notably Shohei Ohtani) make the jump prior to those benchmarks, though in doing so they limit their own immediate earnings to what clubs can offer them from their international bonus pool. Said pools range from $4,144,000 to $6,366,900 for this year’s signing period, and it’s unlikely a team would be willing or able to commit their entire pool to one player. Ohtani, for example, received a bonus of just $2.3MM when he first signed on with the Angels prior to the 2018 season.

Given Sasaki’s talent, there’s little question that he would be able to command significantly more than that if he were to proceed normally through the posting system. Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed the richest free agent deal for a pitcher in MLB history earlier this winter, and it’s possible Sasaki could look to rival that sum through the posting system given his career 2.00 ERA and 34.4% strikeout rate in 46 NPB starts. Sasaski pairs a fastball that touches triple-digits with a forkball that has allowed him to dominate in the World Baseball Classic and become the youngster player in NPB history to throw a perfect game while setting an NPB record for strikeouts in a single start with 19.

Per a report from Kyodo News, Sasaki made no secret of his MLB aspirations during a recent press conference. The phenom was quoted as saying he has a desire to play in the majors “in the future,” that he has communicated that sentiment to Lotte every year, and that the club understands his goals. The report also includes comments from a Marines executive, Naoki Matsumoto. Matsumoto indicated that there was no truth to rumors of discord between Sasaki and the club regarding the right-hander’s future plans and that Sasaki’s desire to play in the majors was known to the club prior to the 2023 campaign.

Wade notes that some reports out of Japan have indicated that Sasaki has negotiated the ability to depart for the majors ahead of the typical posting timeline, perhaps even as soon as next offseason. With that being said, however, neither Sasaki nor the Marines have given a hint as to a timeline for the righty’s jump to the big leagues. When asked about a timeline for his move stateside at the aforementioned presser, Sasaki demurred in favor of focusing on the coming 2024 campaign. Whether that move ultimately comes next offseason or sometime in the future, Sasaki has flashed the potential to be a game-changing arm for any club and would instantly become one of the most attractive free agents in the class he joins.

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