Yankees have been holding out preferred number for top free agent target

Olympics: Baseball-Men Semifinal - JPN-KOR, yankees, yoshinobu yamaoto, mets
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re unsure whether the Yankees are serious about Yoshinobu Yamamoto, then this report should quell any and all doubts. According to SNY’s Andy Martino, the Yankees have been holding out on the number 18 for Yamamoto, for a year as the number is considered the ace number in Japan. Yamamoto, who received his third-straight Pacific League MVP recently, is the top free-agent pitcher in this class and is set to receive a contract north of $200 million. Brian Cashman went to Japan to see Yamamoto in person, where he gave a standing ovation when the 25-year-old finished his second no-hitter on the season.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the Yankees’ clear top free-agent target in this market, and they’re rolling out the red carpet for Japan’s top arm.

Yankees Gearing Up For Pursuit of Japanese Ace

Olympics: Baseball-Men Semifinal - JPN-KOR
Aug 4, 2021; Yokohama, Japan; Team Japan pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (17) throws a pitch against Korea in a baseball semifinal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are deadset on trying to land Yoshinobu Yamamoto, or at least they seem to be seeing that they’re pulling out all the stops for the 25-year-old ace. There’s plenty of reason for the Yankees, who finished in the bottom half of the league in innings pitched and ERA from their starters, to want to go after such a prolific talent. First and foremost, he’s by far the best pitcher in the NPB, as he sported a 1.44 ERA over his past three seasons, winning three straight Sawamura Awards, the NPB equivalent to the Cy Young.

His pitch mix is remarkable, sporting a dominant fastball that generates soft contact and could play up in the United States, as there are more swings-and-misses to be found at the Major Leagues in comparison to the NPB. His splitter is also a great strikeout pitch, and his slow curveball coupled with a cutter and sweeper round out a pitch mix that has led to one of the best stretches in Japanese history. He’s a three-time Pitching Triple Crown winner, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a World Baseball Classic Champion, and an NPB Champion as well, all while being just 25 years old.

olympics: baseball-men semifinal - jpn-kor, yoshinobu yamamoto, mets, yankees
Aug 4, 2021; Yokohama, Japan; Team Japan pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (17) reacts against Korea in a baseball semifinal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are looking to not only get younger, but also improve dramatically from a disappointing 2023 season, and as they potentially gear up to pursue Juan Soto, adding some starting pitching could make it easier to part ways with premium pitching talent in a trade. Yoshinobu Yamamoto fills a lot of what the Yankees are looking for, as he gets plenty of strikeouts, keeps the ball on the ground, is aggressive in the strike zone, and is still really young.

In fact, he’d be the youngest pitcher among the Yankees’ projected starting options, and his upside is phenomenal. He dazzled in the World Baseball Classic, and the Yankees have had their eyes set on the Orix Buffaloes’ ace for quite some time. If the Yankees were to land Yamamoto, they’d pair the presumptive best pitcher on the free agent market with the unanimous 2023 Cy Young Winner in Gerrit Cole, who put together his best season in pinstripes.

As Cole inevitably ages, Yoshinobu Yamamoto could take his mantle as the ace, and the Yankees could further extend their championship window while also opening up the international market. The Yankees are well aware of the fact that they would open a massive revenue stream if they were to land Yamamoto, and the team’s allure is something that appeals to the right-hander.

It’s gearing up to be a hot pursuit of a coveted international pitcher, as the Yankees will fend off big-market teams like the Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, and Giants in this highly-debated free-agent saga.