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The Rockies need to be prepared for a possible shot at Roki Sasaki next winter

Colorado Rockies news and links for Monday, January 8, 2024

The recent signings of Dakota Hudson and Jacob Stallings to one-year deals has likely provided the Colorado Rockies with their most active day (week? month?) of the off-season. There may be a surprise deal involving one of the club’s tenured infielders – Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers – that could provide a significant reshaping of the roster, but there is no evidence of any deal in that sphere in the works.

It hasn’t been a quiet off-season for the rest of the division, though. Significant moves have been made by the rest of the west – and the National League as a whole – while the Rockies have stuck to their modest off-season agenda.

No club has grabbed the headlines more than the Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani to a groundbreaking $700MM contract that is disproportionately split over two decades. The Dodgers followed that up by signing another Japanese ace when they inked Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a 12-year, $325MM deal after he was posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball club, the Orix Buffaloes.

While it may be disappointing for Rockies fans to not see the organization be in the running for these big fish on the market – and to see them end up with the same divisional rival, on top of it – the reality of the situation is the team was never going to be a serious bidder for their services based on financial and competitive considerations.

The organization’s 2024 payroll is already expected to eclipse $140MM, a middle-of-the-pack payroll for a team that just lost 103 games and is not expected to make a significant turnaround for at least a few more seasons. On the surface, it at least makes some sense why they aren’t swimming in the deep-end of free agent pool at this time.

But they need to drastically improve and don’t have the pockets to spend their way out of their problems. The progress of the prospects in the organization is paramount, but the team also needs to be looking to add high-end talent through any possible avenue.

After the 2024 season, there may be a perfect storm of how they can do so. His name is Roki Sasaki.

For those unfamiliar, Roki Sasaki is a phenom right-handed pitcher for the NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines. He first grabbed international headlines with his 19-K perfect game as a 20-year-old in 2022 – the first NPB perfect game in 28 years – and didn’t slow down in 2023 with a 1.78 ERA and and 135 strikeouts over 91 innings pitched. He even appeared for team Japan in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, striking-out 11 in 7 ⅔ IP at the young age of 21.

With a triple-digits fastball and devastating splitter, Sasaki would easily be one of the top arms in Major League Baseball right now as a 22-year-old. Given his profile and previous professional success, his transition to the states is simply a matter of when, not if.

The “when” is a very interesting and important question, however.

While Yamamoto was able to demand top-dollar from L.A. after getting posted, Sasaki does not hold the same leverage. Per MLB’s International Signing rules, foreign players must be at least 25 years of age and have played in a recognized professional league for a minimum of six seasons to gain exemption from the international bonus pool restrictions.

This is how the Los Angeles were able to acquire Ohtani for a bonus of just $2.3MM and keep him at a league-minimum salary for his first three years before arbitration set-in. In Sasaki’s case, he will be in a similar predicament until after the 2026 season.

It is widely-believed that he does wish to leave Japan and play in the states before reaching the age of 25, even though it would severely limit both his earnings and the posting fees for the Marines. Additionally, it is reported that Sasaki may have a clause in his contract that will allow him to opt-out from Marines in favor of the states – possibly giving him more control of the situation.

It’s no secret the Rockies have been largely absent from scouting and acquiring players from Asia – but there is a clear exception to be made here. If Sasaki posts next off-season (or even the following) these circumstances could all culminate into giving the Rockies a legitimate opportunity at acquiring a possible generational talent without having to compete financially with the likes of the Dodgers.

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