Buffaloes to allow ace pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto to move to MLB

The Orix Buffaloes will make ace pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto available to MLB teams via the posting system, the club announced shortly after its loss to the Hanshin Tigers in Game 7 of the Japan Series at Kyocera Dome Osaka on Sunday night.

The move was widely expected before the Buffaloes made it official.

Yamamoto is expected to be one of the top targets on the MLB free-agent market during the offseason.

“I think MLB is the best league in the world,” Yamamoto said in a statement, according to NHK.

The 25-year-old right-hander has a 70-29 record with one save and a 1.82 ERA in 897 innings over seven seasons with the Buffaloes.

A fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a dizzying array of breaking balls, including a solid curveball and a splitter that might be among the best in the world, have made Yamamoto a hot commodity among MLB teams for years.

Several teams have scouted him, and New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman was in attendance at Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba with Yamamoto threw his second-career no-hitter on Sept. 10.

Yamamoto was 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with 169 strikeouts in 164 innings this season and became the second pitcher to win three straight Sawamura Awards. Yamamoto is one of just five three-time winners. He has also won the last two Pacific League MVP awards and is a stronger contender to add a third when the winner is announced later this month.

Yamamoto made two starts during the recently completed Japan Series.

He allowed a career-worst seven earned runs against the Tigers in Game 1. He bounced back in Game 6, striking out 14 to set a new Japan Series record in a 138-pitch complete-game effort to force a Game 7. He earned the Fighting Spirit Award as the top player from the losing team.

“I also feel a little sad, because I love Orix so much,” he said according to NHK. “It would have bene over if we lost yesterday, so I pitched with a strong desire to get us to the next game. I had a lot of good experiences here and grew a lot over the past seven years.”

The Buffaloes are the second NPB team to announce their intention to post a player to MLB this offseason, joining the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, who will allow pitcher Naoyuki Uwasawa to utilize the system.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Yuki Matsui is a free agent and may also test the MLB market.

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