Baseball, Columnists, Sports

On-Deck Circle: International stars lead MLB free agent frenzy

Major League Baseball free agency officially kicked off on Monday. Big decisions loom for some of the league’s biggest stars. 

Chloe Patel | Senior Graphic Artist

For veterans such as Joey Votto and Tim Anderson, their team declined to keep them for another season, sending them to free agency. 

Some players opted into free agency on their own terms, like Marcus Stroman, Eduardo Rodríguez and Justin Turner.

While all of these players will make a splash wherever they sign, the list of the top available free agents this winter is one for the ages.

Leading the list of free agents is former Los Angeles Angels designated hitter and pitcher Shohei Ohtani. That position designation — alongside a seven-game stint in 2021 as an outfielder — should tell you all you need to know about Ohtani’s versatility and ability both at the plate and on the mound.

After a torn elbow ligament this summer, Ohtani’s stock dropped as he is now more than a year away from being able to pitch again. Ohtani’s ability at the plate should warrant a massive contract, regardless of whether or not he can pitch. Ohtani, in line for a long-term deal, would be able to pitch for most of a 10-year deal, should he stay healthy after returning from this injury. This has been more than enough for teams all around the league to express interest in the Japanese phenom. 

The favorites to sign Ohtani have been the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets, but teams like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox have also been rumored to be vying for Ohtani to come to their city. Ultimately, the rumors don’t mean much because every team would love to have a player like Ohtani on their roster. It is just a matter of what team is the best fit and can offer the most value to him. 

Another Japanese star entering the market is pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Ohtani’s teammate on the Japanese national team that just won the World Baseball Classic this spring, Yamamoto is a decorated star from the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) in Japan. He won the Pacific League MVP in 2021 and 2022 and the league’s version of the Cy Young the last three years.

The Mets have been rumored to be his future landing spot, just a year after signing Kodai Senga, a pitcher of similar history to Yamamoto. However, they will need to fend off suitors like the Yankees and Dodgers before bringing the young ace into Queens.

Centerfielder Jung-Hoo Lee is leading the class of position player free agents. Lee, last season’s MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization, is similar to Ohtani in the injury department, warranting skepticism from MLB teams. He suffered an ankle injury that cut his season short. 

The biggest factor in Lee’s free agency might be his age. Lee, just 25 years old, is much younger than many of the other leading free agent hitters. As a player who will be ready for Opening Day once healthy, needing no time to develop in the minors like most rookies, Lee’s age gives a huge benefit to the team that signs him. The San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves are all rumored to be interested in Lee, while the Giants seem like the team to beat in signing the young centerfielder. 

This offseason is another example of the growing globalization and talent of the MLB. While there are still big name free agents coming from the United States like Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Aaron Nola and Matt Chapman, these international stars are shining a new light on the game. 

Evidenced by Japan’s win over the U.S. in the WBC Final, the league is going global. Talent from around the world is coming to the MLB, and countries are aiming for that top spot in the baseball world. 

Fans should be ecstatic to watch the competition get fiercer as more players from Asia, the Caribbean and many other parts of the world prove their country is the best of the best. Baseball may be entering an age where the U.S. is not the team to beat internationally.

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