Yankees might be focusing on elite Japanese starter in the offseason

Olympics: Baseball-Men Semifinal - JPN-KOR, yoshinobo yamamoto, yankees, Mets
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

With the Yankees failing to get the production and health they were looking for from their starting five entering the 2023 season, it seems they’ll look to reinforce their rotation with a splash. Yoshinobu Yamamoto wrapped up his third-straight Triple Crown in Japan’s Nippon Baseball League, where he’ll likely win his third Pacific League MVP and Sawamura Award (NPB’s Cy Young) in three years. As a 25-year-old, there’s rarely a moment in baseball where you have an opportunity to acquire a polished ace this early into their career for just money, and the Yankees know it.

According to a report from Joel Sherman of the New York Post, he believes that if the Yankees “spend any big money this offseason,” it’ll be on Yamamoto, whom Brian Cashman went himself to see when he tossed his second no-hitter of the season. With the Yankees clearly enamored by the right-hander, they look to make a landmark signing by paying for one of the best talents not just in Japan but in the entire world.

The Yankees Could Find Their Heir to Gerrit Cole

It’s clear that Gerrit Cole loves working not just on his own craft but alongside other pitchers on the pitching staff, notably taking Clarke Schmidt under his wing. Yamamoto instantly would become the Yankees’ second-best starter, even if Rodon were to rebound, as the right-hander has built a reputation as one of the very best pitchers in Japanese history. Over his past three seasons, the 25-year-old out of the city of Bizen has a minuscule 1.42 ERA, striking out 27.4% of batters faced over his dominant run.

He’s ascended into one of the best pitchers on the planet, showing off his brilliant pitch mix in the World Baseball Classic, where he displayed a mid-90s four-seamer with plenty of vertical life, a strong cutter, and a dominant splitter and curveball that round out his arsenal extremely well. His bread-and-butter coming up through the Nippon Baseball League was his excellent command, walking no more than 42 batters in a single season, and that came in a year where he threw 193 innings. That being said, his velocity took a spike in his early 20s, improving his arsenal and giving him better swing-and-miss capabilities.

The number that stands out in his line this year is the 0.1 HR/9, allowing just two all season and having as many no-hitters as home runs allowed. That’s right, in 2023, you were just as likely to get no-hit by Yamamoto than you were to hit a HR off of him in a game, and his ridiculous 1.16 ERA reflects that. Major League Baseball has a more HR-friendly environment due to swing mechanics and offensive strategy, and Yamamoto will allow more home runs in the Majors, but he’ll likely also strike out more hitters as well.

olympics: baseball-men semifinal - jpn-kor, yoshinobu yamamoto, yankees
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

It’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts and reacts to Major League hitting, but the first question many will have to answer pertains to his price tag. Yamamoto is likely going to get the largest contract for a starting pitcher since Gerrit Cole’s mammoth contract with these very same Yankees, and bidding is expected to exceed $200 million, as we could see multiple $250 million offers for his services. It remains to be seen who will be seriously bidding and who will just show interest, but the Yankees have repeatedly had leaks from the organization regarding their interest and sent high-ranking personnel to scout him as well.

Brian Cashman doesn’t go to Japan to see players for fun; he does it because he wants to get a first-hand look at a player he’s looking to make a pretty substantial offer to, and it’s not the first report regarding the Yankees’ apparent interest to make a splash in International Free Agency. In a report from Yahoo Japan earlier in September, the Yankees were reportedly gearing up to make an offer that “far exceeded” the $155 million deal that they gave Masahiro Tanaka a decade ago, and while that doesn’t give an exact number, the repeated mention of the Yankees is encouraging.

How it affects their ability to re-shape a struggling offense remains to be seen, but it’s likely that they’ll look into the trade market for some serious improvements, with teams like the Cardinals having bats they could be interested in. Signing Yamamoto makes it a lot easier to dangle top starters in the system for impact bats, and the Yankees might be doing some serious re-shuffling to get back to where they need to be in 2024, which is contending for a World Series title.

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