John Tomase

Should Red Sox breathe a sigh of relief after Yamamoto's rough debut?

Perhaps the Red Sox were better off not emptying their wallets for the Japanese ace.

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No Negativity Week continues, as we take a break from bashing the Red Sox to consider some positive developments. On Tuesday, we examined five young players with breakout potential. On Wednesday, we examined the possibility of improved defense. Today, we'll delve into an offseason miss that might've been a blessing.

When Red Sox chairman Tom Werner made the much-derided proclamation of a full-throttle winter, it's now clear what he actually meant: "We'll make a run at Yoshinobu Yamamoto and nobody else."

The Red Sox missed out on Yamamoto not only because they couldn't meet his asking price of $325 million, but also because they weren't competitive enough on the field to merit his serious consideration.

What's that they say about the best deals being the ones you don't make?

After a brutal spring training that had to leave the Dodgers sweating just a bit at the massive financial commitment they had made to an unproven pitcher, the perspiration in L.A.'s front office is now cascading into buckets after the right-hander's debut.

On Thursday morning in Korea vs. the Padres, Yamamoto made one of MLB's most anticipated unveilings since countryman Shohei Ohtani first toed the rubber for the Angels in 2018 ... and it did not go well.

Yamamoto lasted only one inning, allowing four hits and five runs, not to mention a lot of loud contact. Let the record show that former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts grounded the first pitch Yamamoto threw – a 97 mph fastball right down the middle – to left for a leadoff single.

All that hype for this? It only took the Padres nine pitches to get on the board via Jake Cronenworth's two-run triple into the right field corner, and Yamamoto needed 43 laborious pitches just to finish the inning, by which point the Padres had batted around. Yamamoto threw only 23 strikes while hitting a batter, walking one, and throwing a wild pitch. He struck out two, but his ERA currently stands at 45.00.

Suffice to say, no one saw this coming, and that includes the Red Sox. When the offseason began with projections of Yamamoto receiving $180-$200 million in free agency, the Red Sox believed they had a chance to blow away the field.

But then the industry collectively recognized that 25-year-old aces don't hit the market very often, and the unique circumstances of Yamamoto's availability seemed to drive up the price minute by minute, day by day. By decision time, he owned identical $325 million offers from the Dodgers and Mets, not to mention $300 million from the Yankees.

It's unclear how far the Red Sox were ultimately willing to go, but it hardly matters. Whereas Yamamoto conducted multiple meetings with the Dodgers and New York teams, not once during the process were the Red Sox considered significant players.

And maybe that's a good thing. After posting an 8.38 ERA in spring training while allowing a hideous 19 baserunners in just 9.2 innings, Yamamoto once again demonstrated a concerning inability to miss bats.

Cronenworth pounded a hanging splitter, Ha-Seong Kim cranked a 95 mph fastball 360 feet for a sacrifice fly, Luis Campusano chopped a 2-2 curveball over the third base bag for a bad-luck double, and Tyler Wade ripped a fat cutter to left for an RBI single that completed the scoring. Four of the balls the Padres put in play left the bat at 96 mph or greater.

It's only one game, but what a letdown. Sticking to Japanese pitchers making the transition to the big leagues, Ohtani won his debut with six effective innings against the A's in 2018, Masahiro Tanaka beat the Blue Jays with seven solid innings in 2014, and Red Sox fans need no reminder of Daisuke Matsuzaka's sparkling debut vs. the Royals in 2007, when he struck out 10 and allowed just one run.

The Dodgers now must hope Yamamoto follows a similar path as Yu Darvish, who gave up five runs in his uneven Rangers debut, but by the end of that April owned an ERA of 2.18.

Maybe Yamamoto will make a similar turnaround. Of the 15 pitchers who also allowed at least five runs in no more than one inning of their debuts, two – Al Downing and Tom Hume – went on to become All-Stars. Of course, neither of them was worth $325 million, and Hume made his name as a reliever.

Imagine the reaction if Yamamoto had authored such a debut in a Red Sox uniform. We'd be wailing about a $325 million bust and wondering how their rotation could possibly compete if he's not an ace.

It's entirely possible – likely, even – that his debut will just go down as a footnote in an otherwise excellent rookie season. But until then, it won't be the Red Sox's problem to worry about him righting the ship.

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