Yankees make their pursuit 25-year-old international ace a ‘priority’ according to MLB insider

Olympics: Baseball-Men Semifinal - JPN-KOR
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

With the Yankees waiting for the price tag on Juan Soto to come down, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the team’s number one priority is RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Recently named Pacific League MVP for the third straight season, the Orix Buffaloes’ ace has one of the strongest markets we’ve seen for a pitcher in a long time. While his 1.44 ERA over the last three seasons in Japan would certainly entice teams, being just 25 years old also adds value, as teams view him as a long-term piece for the future.

It’s not often that you get to land a 25-year-old ace for nothing but money, and the Yankees seem motivated to take advantage.

Yankees Looking to Outbid Dodgers, Among Others, For 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 want to do something big this winter, and Yamamoto would certainly be the kind of splash that harkens to the 2008-2009 offseason. Yamamoto, who is considered the best player in Japan currently, has racked up plenty of accolades in his young career, and the Yankees would be landing an arm who would bolster their rotation not just for 2024, but the foreseeable future. This past season was arguably his finest, as he tossed 164 innings with a 1.21 ERA, striking out 169 batters and allowing just two home runs all season.

Yamamoto had just as many no-hitters (2) as he did home runs allowed on the year, and his second no-no was witnessed by long-time GM Brian Cashman overseas. He was seen giving a standing ovation, and the Yankees holding out the number 18 for the past season in the hopes of giving it to the star pitcher. Over in Japan, the number 18 is handed out to the ace pitcher, and if you’re able to pair him with Gerrit Cole, the 2023 AL Cy Young Winner, the team would be stacked pitching-wise.

Furthermore, this would aid the Yankees in trading for Juan Soto, as they could feel more comfortable making a deal including Michael King or Drew Thorpe. This plan also hinges on their ability to develop young talent, if they look to lock up Soto for the long haul after signing Yamamoto, it would take an investment nearing $800 million, and this is after spending over $500 million the winter prior.

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Jul 19, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (55) throws against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It also means needing veterans who struggled last season to step up, and as the Yankees look to get the rotten taste of the 2023 season out of the mouths of fans and media alike, Yamamoto would certainly help. Nightengale also reported that the Yankees would need to be wary of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who we know Yamamoto also has an affinity for, and that suitors like the Mets and Giants shouldn’t be discounted. The Boston Red Sox, who also need starting pitching, have been linked to the international star as well, and will certainly be involved.

The advantages that the Yankees and Dodgers hold come from Yamamoto seemingly having a preference for those teams, whereas the advantage for a team like the Mets stems from their deep pockets. As the Winter Meetings continue, more teams will be filtered out of the sweepstakes, and as the Juan Soto saga continues to unfold, we’ll see if the Yankees and Padres re-engage talks.

For Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner, this offseason will shape the discourse surrounding the franchise for years to come, and if they deliver, the Yankees could finally bring home that elusive 28th World Series Championship.