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Why international free agents are getting big MLB contracts - ESPN

Though MLB free agency has moved at a snail's pace for many this winter, there was one group of players who cashed in early: free agents coming to the majors from Asia's two largest professional leagues, Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball Organization and the Korea Baseball Organization.

Led by Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a package worth $325 million, teams have spent over $530 million on players who, in most cases, have never played an inning in the big leagues.

That kind of guaranteed payday was unheard of even just a few offseasons ago. In 2001, Ichiro Suzuki became the first Japanese-born position player to join MLB, signing a three-year, $14 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. Adjusted for inflation, that deal would be worth just $24 million today — for a player who's a lock to make the Hall of Fame next year.

«If he was coming over today, he'd sign for at least $150 million,» one agent said. «Probably more.»

So what has changed? Why are teams willing to give out that kind of sum to players who have never hit or thrown a major league pitch — or to those returning from Japan or Korea after struggling in MLB?

According to front office executives and agents involved in many of these deals, the market for these players this winter was years in the making.

Improved technology

The biggest change in talent evaluation since Ichiro signed his deal is simple: the ease of finding information on players in leagues across the world has improved.

Previously viewed as around the equivalent of the high minor leagues, the competition in the Japanese and Korean leagues — and more importantly how teams track performance — has grown exponentially. It has provided more