Home Sports Yoshinobu Yamamoto would give Yankees another 25-year-old superstar

Yoshinobu Yamamoto would give Yankees another 25-year-old superstar

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As the 2023 season drew to a close, the Yankees shifted their focus to an influx of youth.

By the time the campaign ended, 10 pinstripers under the age of 26 had major league experience. The hope is that some remaining members of that group, like Anthony Volpe and the rehabbing Jasson Domínguez, blossom into stars.

In the meantime, the Yankees have spent their offseason pursuing 25-year-olds who are already among the sport’s brightest. One, Juan Soto, is on board after the Yankees sent Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez and Kyle Higashioka to the Padres last week.

“Remember, Soto right now would be like [Aaron] Judge in his rookie year age-wise,” agent Scott Boras said before the trade. “He would be beginning his career. And then you think about what Soto has done prior to this time, it tells you what a remarkable talent he is. You’re talking about Soto being younger than Adley Rutschman, a great young player. He’s younger than him, but he’s already been in the league for six seasons. World champion, numbers beyond belief. He’s really in the top category of three or four players in the game’s history to do what he’s done at his age.”

That is why Soto is projected to make $33 million in arbitration this winter, and why he will likely test free agency next winter. He will look to top the 15-year, $440 million extension that his original team, the Nationals, offered before trading him to San Diego.

For now, the Yankees are looking to sell the Gen Z slugger on New York.

“We understand that it’s a possible short-term situation,” Brian Cashman said of Soto last week. But the GM added that he sees the Yankees as the “Mecca of baseball,” and that the team and surrounding area has “a lot to offer.”

If the Yankees add the second 25-year-old on their wish list, there will be no questions about his long-term plans.

Juan Soto, 25, could be the first piece of a young core of star Yankees.
Juan Soto, 25, could be the first piece of a young core of star Yankees.

The club scheduled a Monday meeting in Southern California with Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine were expected to attend following a Sunday night strategy session in Tampa.

Yamamoto accomplished just about everything he could over seven seasons with the Orix Buffaloes, winning four ERA and strikeout titles, three MVPs, three Sawamura Awards — Nippon Professional Baseball’s version of the Cy Young — a Japan Series championship, a World Baseball Classic championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. At 25, he would be the youngest pitcher in the Yankees’ projected rotation by two years.

Clarke Schmidt is 27, and he’s only now coming off his first full season as a starter.

“It’s hard to find a 25-year-old pitcher that’s as decorated as he is and has had the level of success he’s had at this point in his career over there and on the world stage in the WBC,” Aaron Boone said of Yamamoto. “Our reports are that this guy’s really good. The industry sees it the same way, and it feels like there’s gonna be a lot of suitors for him. But I feel quite confident that he’s going to come over here and be a really special top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher.”

Adding Yamamoto would pair an electric arm with Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole. Meanwhile, Yamamoto and Soto – if signed long-term – would give the Yankees a star-studded future that extends well beyond the primes of Cole, 33, and Judge, 31. That possibility – and the chance to prop a championship window wide open – is not lost on the Yankees, even if it may force them to exceed the highest luxury tax threshold of $297 million.

Locking Yamamoto and Soto up while paying older players similarly high salaries would burden the Yankees’ books for years, but the team can count on some relief from other young players who have followed more traditional financial paths, such as Volpe, Domínguez and prospects that have yet to debut. They just need to pan out.

Clearly, that’s the idea as the Yankees continue to push for Yamamoto in a post-Soto world.

At the Winter Meetings, Cashman signaled that a full-court press for Yamamoto has been underway for quite some time. The GM saw the hurler throw a no-hitter in September, and he noted that the Yankees had a representative at all of Yamamoto’s games last season. Cashman added that the Yankees will “give it our best efforts” when it comes to signing the coveted starter.

“He’s gonna be a really successful pitcher anywhere he pitches on the planet,” Cashman said. “We were impressed. There’s reasons we send our pro scouts over and we have a scout on the ground over there to make sure that we don’t miss out on any opportunities that might present themselves. And he’s a tremendous opportunity for anybody. I’ll just leave it at that, but a very impressive and talented player.”

Cashman is hoping that personal touches like his visit and the Yankees’ decision to not issue the No. 18 – customarily worn by Japanese aces – in 2023 will pay dividends. The GM also hinted at former Japanese Yankees like Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka helping the team’s cause. Like Yamamoto, Tanaka came to the majors in time for his age-25 season.

At the Winter Meetings, Cashman would not say if Matsui and Tanaka were actively recruiting Yamamoto. Conflicting reports disagreed on whether the duo would attend Monday’s meeting.

“Ultimately, we’ll play every card necessary that we think is gonna help us and see where it takes us,” Cashman said.

While Cashman spoke openly about Yamamoto, the Yankees are not the only team fighting for the young righty. The Mets’ Steve Cohen and David Stearns recently met with Yamamoto in Japan, and just about every big-market team has been linked to the pitcher. That also includes the Dodgers, even after agreeing to a 10-year, $700 million contract with Shohei Ohtani, another Japanese icon.

With a crowd of high-rollers interested, the total cost for Yamamoto, which includes posting fees, could come in around $300 million. He has until Jan. 4 to decide on his next team under the posting system.

“I don’t know if anybody can compete with Steve Cohen,” Cashman said when asked directly about bidding against the Mets owner, “but he’s obviously a titan of industry. He’s had a lot of success and built an empire, which has allowed him to do things like [buy] the Mets.

“I think we can just concentrate on what we’re going to concentrate on. Obviously, it’s a player of interest and we’ll compete for him and see where that takes us, and it will be enough or it won’t be enough. But that said, I think we do have a strong setup currently and we’d just like to add to it if we can.”

Bill Madden contributed to this report.

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