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How Much Would Paul Skenes Earn As A Free Agent? — College Baseball, MLB Draft, Prospects

How Much Would Paul Skenes Earn As A Free Agent? — College Baseball, MLB Draft, Prospects

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Bradenton Marauders RHP Paul Skenes during an FSL game against the Lakeland Tigers (Photo/Tom DiPace)

When Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed for 12 years and $325 million, it led to a couple of very interesting questions.

1. How can Yamamoto sign a contract that is the largest for a pitcher in MLB history, even before he throws his first MLB pitch?

2. If Yamamoto is a $325 million pitcher, what would Paul Skenes, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 MLB draft, have earned as a free agent instead of entering professional baseball as a draftee allowed to negotiate with one team in a strictly regulated bonus pool system?

How Can Yamamoto Sign Such A Big Deal?

The first question is actually the easier one to answer. While Josh Reddick and others questioned how a pitcher with no MLB time could land such a large contract, it’s worth reminding everyone that free agent contracts are not based on rewarding players for past success. They are based on trying to land the players who will produce the most value in the future.

In that form, Yamamoto is somewhat of a unicorn. He was part of the international posting system, which means he was eligible to come to the U.S. as a foreign professional (eligible to sign an MLB contract) before he reached free agency in Japan. 

Yamamoto turned 25 in August 2023. He needed to be 25 to be eligible to be treated as a foreign professional for MLB contact purposes, but he’ll pitch most of his 2024 season at 25 years old.

A 25-year-old pitcher with a track record of durability and success is sitting in the near-perfect sweet spot for how front offices evaluate pitchers. Such a pitcher has safely made it through their early 20s, which seems to be the age that often swallows promising pitchers in a raft of career-altering injuries. But they are also young enough that they still have the vast majority of their pro careers ahead of them.

Pitchers developing through MLB systems don’t reach free agency at age 25 because they need six (or more) years of MLB service time to reach free agency. Only two pitchers have thrown 50+ innings in an MLB season as a 19-year-old this century (Felix Hernandez and Julio Urias).

So in the case of Yamamoto, we have one of the best pitchers in the world becoming a free agent in a market with limited starting pitching, at an age that means he could pitch another 10-15 years if he stays healthy.


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