Yoshinobu Yamamoto

How international free agents Yamamoto, Lee, Imanaga fit with Giants

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The Giants will leave no stone unturned in search of significant upgrades to their roster this offseason and likely will be all-in on just about every top-of-the-market free agent.

San Francisco's two biggest needs, outside of two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, are top-of-the-rotation starting pitching and an upgrade in center field. While the Giants likely will be in on free agents such as Blake Snell, Sonny Gray and Cody Bellinger, perhaps their best bet is to address those needs through the international free-agent market.

Here's how the three top international free agents fit with the Giants.

RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Outside of Ohtani, Yamamoto is the belle of the ball this offseason. The 25-year-old ace is a two-time Pacific League MVP, a three-time Eiji Sawamura Award winner (Japanese Cy Young) and has won three Triple Crowns in the Nippon Professional Baseball league (NPB) with the Orix Buffaloes.

In seven NPB seasons, Yamamoto has a career line of 70-29 with a 1.82 ERA in 897 innings pitched with 922 strikeouts to 206 walks. Fresh off a 2023 season in which he posted a 16-6 record with a microscopic 1.21 ERA in 164 innings pitched, Yamamoto headlines a free-agent pitching class that includes the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in Snell.

The 5-foot-10 right-hander deploys a fastball that sits 95-99 mph, plus a splitter, curveball and cutter. It also is worth noting the level of play in the NPB oftentimes is compared to that of Triple-A for MiLB players. Simply put, he's earned a promotion to the big leagues.

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Pete Putila traveled to Japan to scout Yamamoto earlier this offseason and Zaidi went as far as saying the Japanese ace is "one of the top starting pitchers in the world" in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area.

Status: Posted (45-day window ends Jan. 4)

MLB Trade Rumors contract projection: Nine years, $225 million

CF Jung Hoo Lee

While Bellinger is the top free-agent center fielder this offseason, Lee might be the better overall fit for the Giants. San Francisco is enamored with Lee and has scouted him on three separate occasions.

The 25-year-old is a former shortstop who transitioned to center field as an 18-year-old in 2017 after signing with the Nexen Heroes, the minor league-style affiliate to the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).

Lee is the son of Jong Beom Lee, a legendary shortstop who played 20 combined seasons in the KBO and NPB in Japan.

The younger Lee has built quite the résumé for himself, winning the KBO MVP award in 2022 after batting .349/.421/.575 with 23 home runs, 113 RBI and a .996 OPS with just 32 (!!) strikeouts in 553 at-bats. Lee's 2023 season was cut short due to an ankle injury, but he hit .318/.406/.455 with six homers and 45 RBI in 86 games.

The 6-foot-1 Lee has elite bat-to-ball skills and the strikeout numbers speak for themselves. In addition to his hitting prowess, Lee is a solid defender in center field. The only knock -- or hesitation per se -- on Lee is that he comes from a league where the average fastball velocity is around 88 mph in the KBO compared to 93 in MLB, which could lead to more strikeouts as he adjusts early on.

The level of play in the KBO also is believed to be the equivalent of somewhere between Double- and Triple-A in MLB.

Status: Likely posted in early December (30-day window)

MLB Trade Rumors contract projection: Five years, $50 million

LHP Shota Imanaga

Imanaga has flown somewhat under the radar this offseason with Yamamoto the primary focus internationally, but he will pursue an MLB career in 2024 and is believed to be in a tier below his fellow countryman as a free-agent starting pitcher.

Imanaga is a 30-year-old left-handed pitcher for the Yokohama BayStars in the NPB who has posted solid numbers across eight seasons in the league. Imanaga is coming off a 2023 season in which he held a 7-4 record with a 2.80 ERA in 148 innings pitched with 174 strikeouts and 24 walks.

The 5-foot-10 lefty has a four-seam fastball that sits low-to-mid 90s, a curveball, changeup and a slider with solid command of all his pitches.

It remains to be seen if the Giants have scouted Imanaga, and while he doesn't fit the top-of-the-rotation bill that Zaidi has said the Giants are targeting this offseason, he certainly could be an intriguing option should San Francisco cast a wider net.

Imanaga, alongside Ohtani and Yamamoto, helped Team Japan to a World Baseball Classic title last spring and even started against Team USA in the championship game and pitched two innings of one-run ball with a pair of strikeouts.

Status: Likely posted this week (45-day window)

MLB Trade Rumors contract projection: Five years, $85 million

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