MLB Hot Stove Lowdown: Yamamoto chooses the Dodgers

The Hot Stove was barely simmering for most of the week as the baseball world waited for the signing of Japanese star pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The week began with the right-hander meeting with the Mets and Yankees in New York and multiple teams extending offers. By the end of the week, Yamamoto signed with the Dodgers, who seem to be pulling out all the stops to improve their team. There were a few smaller-yet-notable transactions, so let's dig in!

Dodgers spending spree continues by signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto

There were reports early on Thursday that Yamamoto would be joining Shohei Ohtani at the Los Angeles Rams game that evening, but that news was shot down as it got closer to kickoff, and now we know why. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the Dodgers and Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto agreed to a 12-year, $325 million contract, including a $50 million signing bonus, two opt-outs, and no deferred money. As typical, this deal is pending a physical, and an additional $50.6 million posting fee will be sent to the Orix Buffalos of Nippon Professional Baseball. This offseason has been a spending frenzy for the Dodgers, and they have committed over $1.1 billion to improving their roster. As a result, the Dodgers' rotation is arguably the best in the league, with Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, Walker Buehler, Bobby Miller, and Emmet Sheehan in two. And don't forget that Ohtani has a chance to join that group entering next season as he returns to the mound from elbow surgery.

Yamamoto has been NPB’s best pitcher over the last couple of seasons, posting a 1.82 ERA and 0.93 WHIP across eight seasons with the Buffalos. Unsurprisingly, he took home the Sawamura Award in the last three seasons, an award given to the best pitcher in Japan. The 24-year-old also has tossed at least 171 innings over the past three seasons, which should give fantasy managers confidence that he is ready to transition to MLB workloads. Yamamoto has a fastball in the mid-nineties and a splitter that could be the best in the majors. Lance Brozdowski of Marquee Sports had an excellent breakdown of this wicked splitter.

Entering the offseason, many expected the young right-hander to land a large contract, but no one expected him to surpass $300 million. His $325 million guaranteed is more than Gerrit Cole received, albeit Cole’s was a nine-year contract as opposed to Yamamoto’s 12-year deal. Andy Martino of SNY reported that the Yankees offered $300 million while the Mets matched the Dodgers’ $325 million offer, but at the end of the day, Yamamoto chose the West Coast and the Dodgers. In drafts at the NFBC, Yamamoto had an ADP of 62.32 and was the 23rd pitcher taken, and we should see both numbers rise after news of the contract. The $325 million man has the makings of a number one or high-end number two starter.

RELATED: MLB Free Agent Tracker

Mets and Brewers get together for a trade

David Stearns and company wasted no time adding familiar faces to the Mets organization as they traded right-handed pitching prospect Coleman Crow for righty Adrian Houser and outfielder Tyrone Taylor. Both players going to the Mets have succeeded in the major leagues and should give the team some much-needed depth.

Houser will likely slide into the fourth spot in the Mets' rotation, pending what else the club does this offseason. While Houser isn’t the nicest abode on the block, he has been a solid contributor for the Brewers, primarily out of the rotation. He has a career 4.00 ERA and 1.36 WHIP across 539 ⅓ innings and posted a 3.22 ERA and 1.28 WHIP across 142 ⅓ innings in 2021, which was the best season of his career. It is an excellent pickup for the Mets from a real-life baseball standpoint, as they seem keen on building depth for the upcoming season. From a fantasy standpoint, it is a slight downgrade for Houser. He has a 52.3 percent groundball rate in his career, and the Mets’ infield had negative eight outs above average (OAA), a far cry from the Brewers' 17 OAA rating by the same Baseball Savant metric. He will likely be on and off wavier wires all season, based on whomever his next matchup is against.

Like Houser, Taylor is a great depth addition for the Mets. It gives the Mets an option in left field, which is needed after the devastating Ronny Mauricio injury, which all but solidifies Jeff McNeil’s role at second base. It was also reasonable for the Brewers as they have too many outfielders (Christian Yelich, Jackson Chourio, Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, and Joey Wiemer), and Taylor has no remaining options.

Not only are the Brewers saving money, which is their modus operandi this offseason, but they are also picking up an exciting pitching prospect in Crow. Crow looked fantastic the season, registering a 1.88 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, and 15.1 percent swinging strikeout before injuring his elbow, which required Tommy John surgery in August. Those marks were the highest of his career, and it remains to be seen if his jump in skill will translate after the surgery. Crow never pitched in the Mets organization, as he was drafted by the Angels and was traded to New York in the Eduardo Escobar deal, so it will likely be 2025 before he throws a pitch in another professional game.

Royals sign Hunter Renfroe for two years, $13 million

The Royals, one of the most active teams this winter, inked a two-year, $13 million contract with outfielder Hunter Renfroe. Like many other Royals contracts, there is an opt-out after the first year. Renfroe has bounced around the last few seasons, playing in Tampa Bay, Boston, Milwaukee, Anaheim, and Cincinnati. He has been a slightly above-league-average hitter in his major league career, and his best season came in 2022 with the Brewers when he hit .255/.315/.492 with 29 homers and 72 RBI across 522 plate appearances. With the deal, he likely secured full-time playing time in right field and his cannon of an arm could come in handy in the specious confines of Kauffman Stadium. There aren’t many players in the upper minors banging on the door for playing time, so even though the Royals are rebuilding, the move makes sense for the squad. From a fantasy perspective, this move likely shifts Drew Waters and Garrett Hampson into a platoon/bench role, but those players were likely to be relevant in deeper draft and hold or AL-only leagues.

Padres add to their bullpen

The Padres and Japanese left-hander Yuki Matsui reportedly agreed to a four-year, $21 million contract this week. The 28-year-old has recorded 326 saves in Japan in his 10-year career, including a 39-save campaign to go along with a 1.57 ERA and 0.89 WHIP with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this past season. With the Padres looking to save some money this winter, it is highly unlikely they will bring back free-agent closer Josh Hader, and Matsui could have the upper-hand in the battle for saves this season with the Padres.

Matsui is an unusual player due to his size, he is listed at 5’8” and 167 pounds, but his stature hasn’t prevented him from racking up plenty of strikeouts. In his final season in Japan, he struck out 32.4 percent of batters he faced while walking a mere 5.9 percent across 59 appearances. He will be an interesting player to watch this spring to see how he fares against major league hitters and if new manager Mike Shildt gives any insight on who will be the closer to begin the 2024 campaign.

MLB mixes things up with new rules changes for the 2024 season

MLB announced on Thursday a multitude of rule changes for the upcoming season. Per a league press release, the following rules are in effect starting in Spring Training:

  1. Runner’s Lane - The Runner’s Lane will be widened to include the dirt between the foul line and the infield grass. This should allow batters to take a more direct route to first base.

  2. Timing Between Pitches - With runners on base, timing between pitches will be reduced from 20 seconds to 18 seconds.

  3. Pitching Changes - If a new pitcher steps onto the warning track with less than 2:00 remaining on the inning break clock, the clock will reset to 2:00 rather than 2:15 as it was in 2023.

  4. Mound Visits - Mound visits are reduced from five to four, with an extra mound awarded to the defensive team if they have zero remaining at the end of the eighth inning.

  5. Pitcher who warms up must face at least one hitter - A pitcher who is sent out to warm up for an inning must face at least one batter.

The MLPA sent out a press release saying they voted against the changes as “Players strongly feel that, following last season’s profound changes to the fundamental rules of the game, immediate additional changes are unnecessary and offer no meaningful benefits to fans, Players, or the competition on the field.” Ultimately, the Joint Competition Committee, which included six owners, four players, and one umpire, voted to implement the new rules as MLB has a majority of seats in the committee. The runner’s lane and pitch clock will likely impact fantasy baseball most, but it remains to be seen exactly to what degree.

MLB Quick Hits: Pirates signed OF Andrew McCutchen to a one-year, $5 million contract… Clayton Beeter and Will Warren are contenders for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation… Kyle Hart signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization… Rockies signed RHP Joe Record to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training… Yoshinobu Yamamoto has met with the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Giants, Cubs, Red Sox, and Phillies… Giants acquired OF TJ Hopkins from the Reds for a player to be named later… Nationals signed RHP Ty Rice to a minor league contract… Rangers signed OF Michael Reed to a minor league contract… Yankees claimed INF Jeter Downs off waivers from the Nationals…Rays invited RHP Michael Gomez to spring training… Royals designated RHP Max Castillo for assignment… Angels have had a “recent dialogue” with free agent left-hander Blake Snell…Royals and LHP Kris Bubic avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.35 million contract… Athletics signed RHP Trevor Gott to a one-year, $1.5 million contract… Angels signed OF Jake Marisnick to a minor league contract… Pirates signed RHP Isaac Mattson to a minor league contract… Phillies signed RHP Ryan Burr to a minor league contract… Dodgers signed OF Travis Swaggerty to a minor league contract… Orioles re-signed Wandisson Charles to a minor league contract… Brewers signed C Eric Haase to a one-year contract…Diamondbacks signed C Ronaldo Hernández to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training… Marlins designated RHP Ryan Jensen for assignment… Marlins acquired RHP Roddery Muńoz from the Pirates for cash considerations… White Sox designated Luis Patińo for assignment…White Sox selected the contract of RHP Josimar Cousin from Double-A Birmingham… Sean Newcomb is expected to be ready for spring training after undergoing right knee arthroscopic surgery this winter… Athletics signed RHP Michel Otanez to a minor league contract… Phillies signed 3B Jacob Gonzalez to a minor league contract… Braves signed RHP Taylor Widener to a minor league contract… Pirates re-signed RHP Wei-Chieh Huang to a minor league contract… Astros signed RHP Taylor Scott to a minor league contract… Dodgers signed RHP Daniel Hudson to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training… Jose Espada has signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Yakult Swallows of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball… Former Reds OF Henry Ramos signed with the Doosan Bears in the Korean Baseball Organization… Reds signed RHP Brooks Kriske to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training… Reds signed INF Hernán Pérez to a minor league contract… Mets signed RHP Victor Castaneda to a minor league contract… Twins signed INF Niko Goodrum to a minor league deal… Pirates and free agent 1B Jake Lamb agreed to a non-roster deal… Veteran 1B Jesús Aguilar agreed to a contract with the Seibu Lions in Japan… Pirates designated RHP Andre Jackson for assignment… Yankees, Astros, Blue Jays, and Pirates remain in the bidding for Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodriguez… Alex Dickerson has signed with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball… Rockies re-signed LHP Ty Blach to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training… Padres released RHP Michel Baez… Padres released OF Jorge Oña… Nationals signed 3B Dérmis Garcia to a minor league contract… Cubs signed C Joe Hudson to a minor league contract… Royals signed C Rodolfo Durán to a minor league contract… Yankees signed RHP Nick Burdi to a minor league contract… Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday that Jasson Domínguez (elbow) could have a normal spring training… Orioles signed C David Bañuelos to a minor league contract… Yankees signed OF Luis González to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.