“A better prospect than Yamamoto”
The Major League’s official website “MLB.com ” on Friday (Korea time) reiterated that Loki Sasaki wants to play in the Major League. “But when will he come?” he had time to point out when Sasaki would advance to the big leagues.
Sasaki was a so-called “hot potato” in the Japanese professional baseball community recently. The reason was that Sasaki didn’t sign the contract even though there were only a few days left until the spring camp for the 2024 season. The Japanese baseball community heated up even more because it was not just a matter of annual salary. The reason behind this was a conflict with Chiba Lotte over whether to advance to the Major League.
Sasaki received the spotlight around the world in April 2022 when he achieved the youngest “perfect game” in Japanese professional baseball history against the Orix Buffaloes. Sasaki was the first pitcher who had no experience in complete pitching at the time to achieve a perfect game, and he struck out 13 consecutive batters, setting a new world record. In particular, Sasaki received tremendous attention as he blocked eight perfect innings in his next appearance.
Based on this momentum, Sasaki played for the national team of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) held in March last year, and at that time, he played seven ⅔ in two games, including his first start in Group B, with a 3.52 ERA, helping the Japanese national team lift the trophy. Sasaki’s performance was enough to arouse interest in the big league, and major league teams began to actively send scouts to observe Sasaki in more detail.
Sasaki faced difficulties in negotiating annual salaries due to his eligibility to play in the Major League. Sasaki is also a talented pitcher with speeds of up to 165 kilometers per hour, but the controlled pitcher announced his intention to play at Chiba Lotte in December last year. The team has great potential, but Chiba Lotte has not allowed Sasaki to challenge himself to the big league. The reason for this is that he has never played a full-time season due to injury. This is where the tension started.
Chiba Lotte has never played a full-time season since its debut, and did not tolerate Sasaki’s challenge as the maximum contract amount is only about $5 million (about 6.7 billion won) if a player under the age of 25 signs a contract with a major league club. In the end, Chiba Lotte and Sasaki had a big conflict in the salary negotiation process, and it was not until the night of the 26th that they signed the seal for 80 million yen (about 723 million won).
After negotiating his salary, Sasaki held a press conference with multiple local media in Japan on the 27th, and Sasaki said, “I have been thinking about Major League Baseball since I started playing baseball, and I have been talking about Major League Baseball since the beginning of my joining. I want to play in the Major League in the future, but it is important to play well in the 2024 season.” When asked about his advance to the big league, Sasaki seemed to be reticent.
With his 2024 season confirmed, Chiba Lotte is also trying to protect his family. “Some media outlets reported that Sasaki acted arbitrarily or complained about the extended annual contract with Sasaki, but none of that happened at all,” Naoki Matsumoto, head of the team’s headquarters, said. “I have been talking about the Major League through my agent since I joined the team in my first year. It is not just Sasaki’s problem.” However, the team declined to give a detailed answer when Sasaki would advance to the big league.
“MLB.com ” also reported Sasaki’s recent situation. Citing Japan’s Kyodo News, “MLB.com ” reported Sasaki’s intention to play in the Major League on the previous day (27th), “Sasaki didn’t want to say when he wanted to play in the Major League. Sasaki said it was important to show good performance in the 2024 season 마카오토토도메인.”
“MLB.com ” said Sasaki’s talent is better than Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who entered the big league with a 12-year, $325 million (about 434.9 billion won) mega contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers this winter, but pointed out that a large-scale contract is impossible if he signs a contract with a major league club at the age of 25.
“MLB.com ” explained, “If Sasaki is posted by Chiba Lotte before his 25th birthday, he will not be eligible for the same mega deal as Yamamoto. Players under the age of 25 who have not played in a foreign country for six seasons are subject to the Major League International Amateur Contract Bonus Full Rule. When Shohei Ohtani (Dodgers) was posted in 2017, he was also subject to this rule.”
It has not been decided when Sasaki will enter the big league, but it is clear that the U.S. is also keenly interested. “Sasaki, along with Ohtani and Yamamoto, helped Japan win the 2023 WBC, and when he beat the U.S. national team to win the title, he received good attention from American baseball fans,” “MLB.com ” said. “Many people think Sasaki, who is three years younger than Yamamoto, is a better prospect.”