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MLB

How many Japanese players are in the MLB? Positions, teams, contracts

With news that Orix Buffaloes pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto is heading to MLB, we take a look at the Japanese players already based in the US.

Update:
El 17 de noviembre se estrena el documental Shohei Ohtani: Beyond the Dream. Descubre cómo verlo y dónde estará disponible.
THEARON W. HENDERSONAFP

With news that Orix Buffaloes pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto is heading to MLB, we take a look at the Japanese players already based in the US. Yamamoto is set to begin a new chapter in his career. The 25-year-old Japanese pitcher says he will be moving on from NPB and has offered himself to MLB franchises for the 2024 campaign, which gets underway at the end of March.

Yamamoto will be the latest in a long line of Japanese players who have played in MLB - a tradition dating back to the mid-1960s. Masanori Murakami has the honor of being the first. He moved stateside as an exchange student in September 1962 and was called up by the San Francisco Giants, making his MLB debut against the New York Mets in September 1964.

In total, 67 Japanese players have played at least one game in MLB - most of them played much more than that, and some, such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Nori Aoki enjoyed lengthy careers in the major leagues.

Currently, there are eight Japanese players who remain active and under contract at MLB franchises. Let’s take a look at their contract status and salaries.

Yu Darvish
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Yu DarvishSean M. HaffeyAFP

Yu Darvish - Pitcher (San Diego Padres)

At 37, Yu Darvish is the most veteran Japanese player still active in MLB. He made the move ahead of the 2012 season, swapping Hokkaido’s Nippon Ham Fighters for the Texas Rangers, where he stayed until 2017. Stints with the Dodgers and the Cubs followed. He is currently on the books at the San Diego Padres where he earns a base salary of $24 million.

Kenta Maeda - Pitcher (Detroit Tigers)

Osaka-born pitcher Kenta Maeda penned an eight-year deal worth $25 million with the Dodgers in 2016 which he topped up with $650,000 in bonuses in his first season. He was in LA for four seasons before being traded to Minnesota in a three-player deal. He was sidelined for the entire 2022 season after undergoing TJS in September 2021. This week he was back on the move, signing a two-year $24 million deal with the Tigers pending a medical. At 36, Maeda has earned a basic salary of around $3 million during the past three years.

Shohei Ohtani - Pitcher (free agent)

The versatile Shohei Ohtani was snapped up by the Los Angeles Angels at a bargain price in December 2017 with his parent club, the Ham Fighters receiving a $20-million posting fee. Initially, Shotime was taking home a modest $3.5 million per month, including bonuses but his average salary in the past few years has been around $30 million. We’ll see where he ends up for the 2024 season - right now, the Texas Rangers are the favorites to acquire his signature.

Yusei Kikuchi - Pitcher (Toronto Blue Jays)

Kikuchi arrived in MLB in 2019, signing a four-year deal with the Mariners. Curiously, he made his MLB debut in his homeland, in the 9-7 win against Oakland Athletic at the Tokyo Dome. Last year, after three seasons in Seattle, he agreed a three-year contract including $36,000,000 guaranteed - and an annual average salary of $12 million with the Toronto Blue Jays. Next year, Kikuchi is expected to earn a base salary of $10 million.

Seiya Suzuki - Outfielder (Chicago Cubs)

Slugging outfielder Seiya Suzuki committed to a five-year deal with the Cubs in March 2022, worth a reported $85 million. In his first season, he posted an average of .285 with 20 homers. He has another two years to run on his contract and earns a yearly salary of $19 million.

Shintaro Fujinami - Pitcher (free agent)

Another player who is about to complete his first year in MLB, but whose future remains unclear. Fujinami signed a one-year contract with the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Easton Lucas back in January but the 29-year-old failed to lock down a regular place, ending his debut season in the bullpen. He earned an annual salary of just over $3 million with the O’s and is now looking for a new team.

Kodai Senga - Pitcher (New York Mets)

Like Yoshida and Fujinami, Kodai Senga is about to celebrate his first anniversary in MLB. He has another four years to run on his contract with the Mets with the option of an extra year. That deal included a $5 million signing bonus and $75,000,000 guaranteed - giving him a takehome salary of around $15 million. He also has an opt-out clause following the 2025 season if he reaches 400 innings during the first three years of the contract - he finished his debut season with just under 170, so he’s almost halfway there.

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