Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Why Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto has Zaidi, Giants' attention

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants learned a lot of lessons last offseason, including an unexpected one about how difficult it can be to keep your preferences in house. They were long rumored to be interested in Kodai Senga, and there was no way for team officials to be coy about their preferences after a graphic welcoming Senga for an official visit was seen by people driving past Oracle Park.

A year later, the Giants are again expected to be a frontrunner for a right-handed ace from Japan. But this isn't a story about Shohei Ohtani.

The Giants do plan to pursue Ohtani, perhaps the best free agent the sport has ever seen, but they also plan to go hard after right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a two-time Pacific Coast League MVP in Japan.

On Thursday's Giants Talk Podcast, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the Giants have already done plenty of work to prepare for potential pursuits of Yamamoto and South Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee.

"It's been a pilgrimage over there from front office people to see him," Zaidi said of Yamamoto. "He's really one of the top starting pitchers in the world. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but it's not. It sounds like a big statement, but yeah, I think both of those guys will attract some interest and we're just continuing to do our work on them in anticipation of their posting in a couple of months."

General manager Pete Putila and vice president of pro scouting Zack Minasian were among the team officials to fly to Japan this season to scout Yamamoto, although they were far from alone. As Zaidi noted, it was a pilgrimage, especially for big-market executives. When Yamamoto threw his second career no-hitter last month, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was in the front row.

Assuming Yamamoto is posted this offseason, he is expected to get one of the largest contracts for a free agent pitcher in MLB history. Multiple executives said over the last few weeks that they expect Yamamoto to easily surpass the seven-year, $155 million deal Masahiro Tanaka got from the Yankees in 2014, with one predicting he'll sign for more than $200 million.

The Giants have not signed a free agent pitcher to a deal longer than three years under Zaidi and had little interest in negotiating with Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodón, but it's not hard to see why they view Yamamoto as an exception. A big part of the appeal for league executives is Yamamoto's age. He'll arrive in MLB as a 25-year-old and is nearly two years younger than Logan Webb, the Giants' homegrown ace.

Yamamoto is a two-time league MVP and has won the league's pitching triple crown twice. He has a 1.72 ERA as a professional and was down to 1.21 this season, with more than a strikeout per inning and just two home runs allowed.

"It's just a tremendous combination of athleticism, stuff and command," Zaidi said on Giants Talk. "He just moves really well on the mound. His results have been terrific. It just looks like he's got plus stuff and he's sort of putting every pitch where he wants to, which in this day and age where we're so worried about pitch characteristics and velocity, it's almost different to see somebody execute at that high of a level with good stuff. A lot of positives there, and he's been an impressive guy to watch."

The Giants had no doubt last offseason that Senga could easily make the transition to MLB, and he ended up posting a 2.98 ERA in 29 starts for the New York Mets while making the All-Star team. That success should help embolden all of the familiar candidates -- the New York teams, the Boston Red Sox, etc. -- to enter the bidding war, and Giants officials expect it to get a little crazy.

RELATED: Giants don't plan to add starting pitching depth this offseason

They plan to be right in the mix, though, and as they enter a crucial offseason, Ohtani and Yamamoto top their wish list. The offense was the biggest issue in 2023, but adding another frontline starter could allow Zaidi to trade a young starting pitcher or two and add additional everyday options to the lineup.

"It all comes down to balance, right?" Zaidi said. "If you feel like you have a little bit of a surplus there -- it never really feels like you have a surplus of pitching -- but if it gives us an opportunity to fill some of our needs on the position player side (with) the types of players and the profiles that we're looking for, I think we would be very open to that … everybody needs pitching, everyone really wants young pitching, so I think we'll have a lot of potential trade partners if we find some players to target that we really like."

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