Analyzing the Yankees’ Yamamoto whiff: What went wrong?
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The New York Yankees made an aggressive push to sign highly sought-after Yoshinobu Yamamoto this offseason. The Yankees emerged as early contenders for the Japanese pitching star even prior to his formal posting for MLB free agency by his Nippon Professional Baseball club in November.
However, in a surprise twist, Yamamoto ultimately chose to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, inking a landmark 12-year, $325 million contract on Thursday that set new high water marks for both starting pitcher deals and transitions from Japan to the majors.
In the hours leading up to the bombshell decision, Yankees manager Aaron Boone revealed to the media that he had gifted Yamamoto a jersey emblazoned with the number 18, conveying his belief that the Yankees had put their best foot forward. He cited the franchise’s storied history and experience with Japanese icons like Ichiro Suzuki and Masahiro Tanaka as key selling points.
The team even enlisted Yankees legend Hideki Matsui for a personal video tribute as part of their presentation. After an initial meeting, Yamamoto himself had requested a second audience with the Yankees, hinting he may have been leaning toward New York.
But in the end, the Yankees’ full-court press proved insufficient to prevent Yamamoto from choosing to team up with Shohei Ohtani on the Dodgers. While the Yankees brought their A-game, the prospect of partnering with Ohtani in a potential pitching juggernaut coupled with a record-setting contract from Los Angeles swayed Yamamoto.
In the blink of an eye, Yamamoto was LA-bound despite the Yankees’ best efforts to make him Bronx-bound. The Bombers gave it their all but sometimes another suitor just makes an offer that cannot be refused or matched. What went wrong for the Yankees?
The money factor in the deal
Japanese pitching phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto has agreed to a monumental 12-year, $325 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, following the trail blazed by Shohei Ohtani to Southern California. Yamamoto’s deal caps a frenetic bidding war among virtually every major market club vying for the 25-year-old righty’s services, including the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Red Sox, and Blue Jays.
However, the news surely stings for New York Yankees fans in particular. In the days since Yamamoto concluded his meetings with suitors, multiple reports indicated the Yankees and Dodgers were neck-and-neck, with some even suggesting the Bombers had pulled ahead in the sweepstakes. But ultimately the Dodgers won out, and financials may have tipped the scales. Per SNY’s Andy Martino, the Yankees balked at matching the total value of Los Angeles’ mammoth offer, topping out around $300 million instead. That $25 million gap could have swayed Yamamoto’s decision.
Perhaps the Yankees were unwilling to let an unproven MLB newcomer surpass their ace Gerrit Cole, who inked a $324 million pact over nine years. While the Bombers made a spirited run, the extra year and higher total value from the Dodgers likely proved the difference in steering Yamamoto to Southern California rather than the Bronx. In the end, the Dodgers simply outgunned the Yankees financially to pair Yamamoto with Ohtani in a potential super rotation.
The tenure demand by the pitcher
By numerous accounts, the Yankees actually put forth a more lucrative average annual salary offer for coveted Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto compared to the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, the player’s representation firmly pushed for a longer-term commitment that gave the Dodgers an edge.
Signing any pitcher to a 12-year pact before they ever throw a big league pitch represents a massive risk that likely made the Yankees hesitant. Their past experiences further support avoiding such an elongated deal. The Yankees have seen how back-loaded contracts can become burdensome, as evidenced by Giancarlo Stanton’s albatross deal.
Additionally, the last time the Yankees committed long-term to a Japanese import was Masahiro Tanaka at 7 years. While strong initially, Tanaka’s performance dipped after a few seasons and he battled injuries. At just 25, locking up Yamamoto for 12 seasons despite no MLB track record was likely an unpalatable proposition for the Yankees brass.
Given past cautionary tales like Tanaka and Stanton, the Yankees were understandably unwilling to meet the requested 12-year term for the unproven Yamamoto. Their offer may have been more lucrative annually, but the extended timeline desired by the pitcher’s camp swayed him to Los Angeles. Once again, the Yankees’ past experiences shaped their calculus and hindered their pursuit of a coveted free agent target.
The Ohtani factor gave LA the edge
Industry experts speculate Shohei Ohtani’s monumental $700 million pact with the Dodgers likely played a key role in swaying Yoshinobu Yamamoto to follow him to Los Angeles. Ohtani’s deal seemingly established benchmarks for both financial rewards and long-term commitment that Yamamoto aimed to match or exceed in his own negotiations, regardless of the actual on-field fit.
Furthermore, teaming up with Ohtani out West may have appeal from a brand perspective back home in Japan, elevating Yamamoto’s celebrity status even higher. The star-laden Dodgers can provide him virtually everything he desires – championships, money, fame.
Yamamoto’s penchant for big status
Yankees manager Aaron Boone relayed after meeting with Yamamoto that his main takeaway was the pitcher’s burning desire to achieve greatness. Landing in the ace role on a marquee franchise like the Dodgers neatly aligns with that aspiration. Yamamoto would inherit a tradition of pitching excellence in Hollywood while soaking up the West Coast spotlight.
Conversely, on the Bronx Bombers Yamamoto may have faced playing second fiddle to established icons like Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Gerrit Cole. The Yankees likely couldn’t offer the clear ace mantle or central role in driving the team’s success. For the fame and distinction the Japanese sensation seeks, the Dodgers simply represent a better vessel.
Yankees’ Soto factor
The Yankees’ blockbuster trade for superstar Juan Soto was a huge coup, but the power hitter can enter free agency again next winter. The Yankees’ reluctance to match the Dodgers’ massive offer for Yoshinobu Yamamoto doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their ability to retain Soto long-term. That extra $25 million could have been pivotal in securing Soto next offseason. For now, missing out on Yamamoto while not even being the top bidder is more of the same frustration for fans.
Though the Bombers felt positive about their Yamamoto pursuit, Plan B options are now under consideration like reunions with Jordan Montgomery or Frankie Montas, acquiring Corbin Burnes via trade, or making a run at Japanese pitcher Shota Imanga.
The Yankees will quickly see Yamamoto’s talents up close when the Dodgers visit Yankee Stadium June 7-9 along with Shohei Ohtani.
While the sting of losing out on Yamamoto lingers, the aggressive push showcased the Yankees are still willing to make bold moves under the younger Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman when motivated. Their spirited pursuit reaffirmed the franchise’s win-now mentality, even if ultimately falling short.
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