Subway tensions soar as Cohen bent on answering Yankees’ Soto uppercut

Steve Cohen of the Mets and Yankees' owner Hal Steinbrenner
Michael Bennington
Thursday December 21, 2023

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The cross-town rivalry between the Yankees and Mets is not confined to the MLB season only. Their offseasons also witness a game of upmanship. Upon the Yankees successfully acquiring Juan Soto, MLB insider Andy Martino of SNY expressed optimism for a thaw in their rivalry this winter. However, the raging competition for Yoshinobu Yamamoto pits one against the other, and the Mets’ owner Steve Cohen has taken an unyielding approach toward the Yankees.

Following a lavish spending spree that propelled the Mets to the pinnacle of MLB’s payroll hierarchy, exceeding $300 million last winter, Steve Cohen has adopted a more measured approach to expenditures this offseason allowing the Yankees an upper hand in signing Soto. Under the guidance of the newly appointed president of baseball operations, David Stearns, often characterized as a “small market GM,” the team has opted for one-year deals with reclamation projects like Luis Severino, Joey Wendle, and Jorge López, among others.

However, when it comes to Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Cohen appears to be reverting to his more generous spending habits. Every indication suggests that he is prepared to make a substantial financial commitment to the 25-year-old Japanese pitching sensation to prevent his acquisition by the Yankees.

Both Yankees and Mets want pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Mets determined to challenge Yankees on Yamamoto

In Queens, it’s not entirely discouraging news. Mets owner Steve Cohen’s trip to Japan to meet with Yamamoto and his family and again dinner meeting with him in New York have proven his determination. This development positions the Mets as frontrunners alongside the Yankees, who have reportedly reserved No. 18 for the pitcher throughout the year, as per Martino. Other teams are also actively pursuing Yamamoto, as indicated by various reports.

Cohen is signaling a potential willingness to surpass the Yankees in financial commitment for the pitcher, a departure from the era under the Wilpons.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan, drawing parallels between Yamamoto and prime Tim Lincecum, suggested on “The Michael Kay Show” that the Japanese ace is likely to secure a deal nearing $250 million before Christmas. Taking into account a posting fee exceeding $45 million, the team securing the services of the three-time Pacific League Most Valuable Player will be committing close to $300 million.

A high-ranking executive conveyed to ESPN’s Buster Olney that there could be a significant shift from having the largest payroll to acquiring the most costly pitcher ever. The executive suggested that the individual in question wasn’t demonstrating a cooperative or accommodating attitude in these negotiations.

Japanese pitching sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto plays in the Nippon League and is a target by many MLB clubs.
JAPAN Forward

This deliberate effort sends a clear message, underscoring Cohen’s determination to assert his financial prowess not only within MLB circles but potentially as a reminder to the Yankees of his substantial spending capabilities.

This marks a noticeable shift, as the Yankees, often viewed as co-favorites for the pitcher, seem to have reverted to their traditional spending habits this offseason. Their acquisition of Juan Soto from the Padres, involving five players, and their reported readiness to invest up to $300 million for Yamamoto sets the stage for a competitive financial contest between the two teams.

Cohen has initiated a distinctive approach in his interactions with Yamamoto, infusing a personal touch into the negotiations. Going the extra mile, he embarked on a 14-hour journey to Japan for a face-to-face meeting with the three-time Pacific League MVP. Furthermore, he extended hospitality by hosting Yamamoto at his residence in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Both are flexing muscles

Yoshinobu Yamamoto is a key target for the New York Yankees during the 2023 offseason.

For valid reasons, the pursuit of pitchers like Yamamoto is exceptional. As a three-time recipient of the Sawamura Award, Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young, Yamamoto stands out. At the age of 25, he is on the cusp of entering his prime and boasts an impressive career 1.82 ERA.

Both crosstown rivals can comfortably accommodate such a substantial salary. The Yankees, recognized as the wealthiest MLB franchise with an estimated value of $7.1 billion according to Forbes, and Cohen, acknowledged as the wealthiest owner in baseball with an estimated net worth of $19.1 billion, as per Forbes, have the financial capacity.

Yamamoto showcased an impressive performance last season, achieving a 16-6 record with a remarkable 1.21 ERA and 169 strikeouts over 164 innings for the Orix Buffaloes. This outstanding performance led to him receiving the Sawamura Award, Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award, for the third consecutive year.

Notably, in September, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman witnessed Yamamoto’s excellence firsthand as he threw a no-hitter. This achievement marked him as the first pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball history to accomplish a no-hitter in consecutive seasons.

Cashman shared his thoughts on the experience during the Winter Meetings, expressing, “It was an incredibly enjoyable experience.” He highlighted the significance of witnessing a no-hitter, considering it a remarkable event regardless of the level of play, whether it be high school, college, or professional ranks. The Yankees GM found it particularly special and mentioned that it made his trip worthwhile, observing and appreciating the artistry displayed during the game.

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