Advantage Yankees in Yamamoto race despite Dodgers fielding Ohtani

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, Japanese ace Yamamoto, and Dodgers' Ohtani
John Allen
Saturday December 16, 2023

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The Yankees are optimistic after meeting Yoshinobu Yamamoto on Monday. However, they face stiff competition from their West Coast rivals and are currently in wait-and-watch mode. Despite this, the Yankees still have the best chance to get the ace, according to Jon Heyman of The New York Post.

There are recent developments in the last week that led many to think that the Yankees’ chase of Yamamoto is losing steam. They see the Dodgers as having a stronger chance after Shohei Ohtani led their delegation to meet the sought-after Japanese right-hander. Simultaneously, the Yankees are reportedly scouting another Japanese Shota Imanaga as a potential backup plan.

But Heyman believes the Yankees are well positioned to beat the high-value competitors and even Ohtani can’t help the Dodgers in the battle for Yamamoto vs. the Yankees.

Yankees override Dodgers’ Ohtani edge to lead Yamamoto race

Whether accurate or not, there’s speculation circulating that the young sensation Yamamoto might be receptive to the spotlight, a factor that could bode well for both the Yankees and the Dodgers.

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Regarding the financial aspect, despite indications that Yamamoto’s price is on the rise—from an initial estimate of $200 million to nearly $300 million—there have been no discussions on this matter as of midweek, according to one involved GM.

Expect additional discontent from the central regions if the Yankees or Dodgers manage to secure arguably the most coveted Japanese free agent with a nine-figure contract. This comes after the two powerhouse franchises recently sealed major deals for Shohei Ohtani (Dodgers) and Juan Soto (Yankees). While the field initially comprised all major market teams, it appears to have narrowed, with approximately five other teams still in contention.

Japanese athlete Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Kyodo News/Sipa USA

Among all the teams, Heyman believes that Yamamoto is likely to choose the Yankees, attributing 2-1 odds to this prediction. The rationale behind this assessment stems from how the Yankees carried themselves in the meeting.

Heyman reported that a group comprising Hal Steinbrenner, Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, Aaron Boone, and Matt Blake traveled to Los Angeles for a meeting with Yamamoto. Heyman suggested that if Yamamoto desired prestige and attention, this group might be an appealing choice. He noted that while Steinbrenner might have certain boundaries, he seemed committed to enhancing the team following what was termed a “disastrous” 82-80 season.

The excitement surrounding Yamamoto is well-founded. In the previous season, the 25-year-old achieved an impressive 16-6 record with a remarkable 1.21 ERA. This marked his third consecutive season with a sub-two ERA, accompanied by 169 strikeouts across 164 innings for the Orix Buffaloes. Consequently, he secured a Sawamura Award, Japan’s equivalent to the Cy Young Award, for the third consecutive year.

Why Yankees top Dodgers for Yamamoto despite LA’s Ohtani advantage

According to Heyman, both the Yankees and the Dodgers are given 2-1 odds to sign Yamamoto. However, he puts the Yankees ahead of the Dodgers.

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nypost.com

Hal Steinbrenner, along with Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, Aaron Boone, and Matt Blake, traveled to Los Angeles for their meeting with Yamamoto. If prestige and attention are key factors in Yamamoto’s decision-making, this group may be the preferred choice. While Steinbrenner has his constraints, he’s signaling a strong determination to enhance the team following what he deemed a “disastrous” 82-80 season.

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Mark J. Terrill/AP

Clearly, the Dodgers can incorporate Yamamoto into their financial plan, particularly after Ohtani accepted a $2 million salary for the entire 10-year duration of his $700 million deal (assessed at $437.8 million by the union, factoring in $68 million annually in deferrals). The uncertainty lies in whether Ohtani’s presence is viewed as a positive. While the team appears formidable with Ohtani, one competitor speculated that Yamamoto might desire a more prominent spotlight, suggesting, “He doesn’t want to be in Ohtani’s shadow.”

Can Mets and Giants spoil the party?

An executive involved in the negotiations suggested that a decision might be reached next week, although the process could potentially extend beyond that timeline. However, the competition for Yamamoto’s services is fierce. In the current week alone, aside from the Yankees, he has held discussions with the Giants, Dodgers, and Phillies. Future meetings are anticipated with the Blue Jays and the Red Sox.

The Mets are also in the running for the three-time Pacific League MVP winner. A contingent of Mets representatives, including owner Steve Cohen and David Stearns, made the 14-hour journey to Japan last week to meet with Yamamoto. The well-financed Mets have the potential to outshine the competition, and Yamamoto aligns well with the preferences of the new baseball president, David Stearns, being a rare free-agent starter at the young age of 25. Their successful Kodai Senga $75 million deal indicates their ability to make impactful moves, and Senga likely provided a positive endorsement. But they are at 8-1 odds.

The Giants have demonstrated their ability to secure a high-profile star with a nine-figure contract by triumphing over the Padres in the competition to sign Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee. But the odds are only 15-1.

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