This offseason saw a pair of big-name Japanese stars make their respective transitions to Major League Baseball. Kodai Senga of the New York Mets and Masataka Yoshida of the Boston Red Sox previously served as household names of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.
Another NPB star, Munetaka Murakami, could be the next name to look out for.
The 22-year-old has spent the last five seasons playing first and third base for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. And for those already in the loop with the NPB, hearing Murakami’s name is nothing new. He’s built quite the impression and has blossomed both with the glove and in the batter’s box — doing so in historic fashion.
In 2021, Murakami earned MVP honors. That season he batted .278/.566/.408 and crushed 39 home runs with 27 doubles and 112 RBIs in 143 games. That ceiling rose to an insane level for Murakami in his follow-up campaign.
The left-handed hitter crushed 56 homers — the most by a Japanese player since Sadaharu Oh (55) in 1964. He also batted a career-high .318/.710/.458 with 21 doubles and 134 RBIs. Not to mention Murakami notched a 1.168 OPS and 10.2 WAR which earned him both a Triple Crown and his second straight MVP award.
Murakami also became the first unanimous MVP winner since Oh in 1977.
This all begs the question: what’s next for the Japanese slugger?
Well, according to Murakami’s contract with the Swallows, it’s returning to the NPB. After capping off his 2022 run in jaw-dropping fashion, he landed a three-year deal. The contract — worth $600 million yen (roughly $4.5 million USD per year) — keeps Murakami in Tokyo until 2025. After that, he’ll officially be posted for MLB clubs to swarm in and bid.
As one may understand, Swallows president Tsuyoshi Kinugasa isn’t too fond of the idea of losing Murakami to the MLB.
“It would be a huge blow to our club,” Kinugasa said in December, according to The Mainichi. “But he is a treasure in the baseball world. I’m sure baseball fans in Japan want to see him play in the majors.”
However, Murakami has made his sights clear.
“Of course I want to try (the MLB),” Murakami said, per CBS Sports. “I don’t know how old I’ll be, but I’m still young, so the sooner the better. It will involve discussions with (the Swallows), but if I can go, I want to go soon.”
Murakami will be 25 years old when he’s eligible to sign a contract of any size with an MLB team. Any agreement worth over $50 million will have to include a 15% posting fee for the Swallows.