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The MLB trade deadline is Aug. 1, so only two weeks away, though teams are already looking ahead to the upcoming offseason and next year. According to SNY, New York Mets general manager Billy Eppler traveled to Japan at some point earlier this year to watch Orix Buffaloes righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Buffaloes are expected to post their ace for MLB teams this winter.

Yamamoto, 25 next month, has been arguably the best pitcher in Japan the last few seasons, and this year he owns a 1.61 ERA with 110 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings. He is a four-time All-Star (2018-19, 2021-22), a two-time Pacific League MVP (2021-22), and a two-time Eiji Sawamura Award winner (2021-22), Japan's equivalent to the Cy Young.

Back in March, we ranked Yamamoto the best non-MLB prospect in the World Baseball Classic. Here's what you need to know about the ace righty:

The success of Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, and numerous others has proven that NPB pitchers can handle themselves in MLB. Yamamoto would fit right in from a pitch-quality perspective. He has great command of a mid-90s fastball with carry, as well as a swing-and-miss splitter and a high-spin curveball. He would have to prove that his stuff -- especially his splitter -- plays the same with the baseball stateside, but again, there's enough precedent here to be optimistic about his chances. The other concern about him is his size, as he's listed at 5-foot-10 with a slight frame. Teams appear to be more favorable to shorter pitchers these days, however, thanks to the increased popularity of the vertical approach angle concept and the decreased expectations in starter workload. Yamamoto will likely be viewed as a No. 2 starter if and when he comes over. 

Because Yamamoto will be 25 when he is posted, he will not be subject to MLB's international bonus rules, and will be able to sign a contract of any size. The team that signs him will pay the Buffaloes a posting fee commensurate with the contract, however. Tanaka's seven-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees is the largest ever given to a posted Japanese player.

The Mets currently have four starters under contract for 2024 (José Quintana, Max Scherzer, Kodai Senga, Justin Verlander), though Scherzer and/or Verlander could be traded at the deadline. Possibly Quintana too. Still, there is always room in the rotation for a 25-year-old with Yamamoto's ability. You sign a player like that when you can and make the pieces fit.

Eppler has a history of acquiring Japanese players. He scouted and helped land Tanaka while assistant GM with the Yankees, lured Ohtani to the Los Angeles Angels while serving as their GM, and last offseason he signed Senga with the Mets. That doesn't guarantee the Mets will land Yamamoto, of course. Only that their GM has experience in this arena.

The upcoming free agent class is pretty thin behind Ohtani. Yamamoto could instantly become the second- or third-best free agent available. The Mets enter play Tuesday with a 43-50 record and a 8.5 games behind the third and final wild-card spot.