Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the most sought after pitcher on the free agent market, was named Most Valuable Player of Nippon Professional Baseball's Pacific League on Tuesday. It is Yamamoto's third straight MVP. He has also won three straight Eiji Sawamura Awards, which is Japan's equivalent to the Cy Young.

Yamamoto is third player in NPB history to win three consecutive MVPs, joining Hall of Fame pitcher Hisashi Yamada (1976-78) and the peerless Ichiro Suzuki (1994-96). Like Yamamoto, Ichiro also played for the Buffaloes before coming to MLB.

"He is a legend of the franchise. I'm happy to have done the same as him. Everyone looks up to him, and I'm one of those," Yamamoto told the Kyodo News about winning three straight MVPs like Ichiro. "... I can't quite say I left everything out there on the field, but I've had a terrific journey in pro baseball. I'm very happy because it's important to me to continue to contribute."

The 25-year-old Yamamoto threw 171 innings with a 1.16 ERA and 176 strikeouts this season. In parts of seven seasons with Orix, Yamamoto owns a 75-30 record with a 1.72 ERA in 967 2/3 innings. Our R.J. Anderson ranked him the No. 2 free agent available this offseason, behind only Shohei Ohtani. Here's his write-up:

He is, in our estimation, the best pitcher in the world to have never suited up for an MLB team. Oh, and he just celebrated his 25th birthday in August. Talent evaluators have raved to CBS Sports about Yamamoto for years, citing his high-grade command over a good arsenal as the most impressive part of his game. He throws a mid-90s fastball about half the time, complementing it with a swing-and-miss splitter and a high-spin curveball. Each of those pitches went for a strike at least 65% of the time this season, reinforcing the notion that he paints with a fine-tip brush. There's more than enough precedent to feel confident in Yamamoto making an easy adjustment to the MLB ball and schedule. In turn, there's no reason for teams to hold back in their bidding, rendering it highly likely that he shatters Masahiro Tanaka's record $155 million contract.

The Buffaloes posted Yamamoto for MLB teams earlier this month and his 45-day posting period expires at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, Jan. 4. Yamamoto can sign at any time during his 45-day window. He is expected to meet with teams on Zoom this week, narrow down his list, then begin face-to-face meetings in December.

Masahiro Tanaka's seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees is the record for a Japanese player coming over to MLB. Like Yamamoto, Tanaka came over at 25, and he was the best pitcher in Japan at the time. Tanaka signed his deal a decade ago now. In a thin free agent class, Yamamoto is expected to command a contract north of $200 million.