Why Yankees can’t afford to miss out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto
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Despite Yoshinobu Yamamoto carrying a hefty $300 million price tag and being untested in MLB, the Yankees are pushing hard to bring him to the Bronx. The euphoria built around the Japanese sensation makes fans feel that the team sees him in the league of Aaron Judge and ace pitcher Gerrit Cole.
A deeper look unveils why the Yankees are prioritizing starting pitcher Yamamoto as their key focus in the current offseason. The pursuit of the Japanese ace is not merely another instance of the Yankees indulging in extravagant free agency spending; rather, it is a pragmatic necessity dictated by the current state of their pitching rotation.
Why the Yankees are desperate for Yamamoto
Nearly twelve months ago, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone expressed enthusiastic praise for the team’s starting rotation, envisioning them as a “truly special group.” On the surface, Boone’s optimism appeared justified.
The Yankees had recently secured the services of Carlos Rodon, a notable contender for the National League Cy Young Award, signing him to a six-year contract. Both inside and outside the organization, there was a prevailing belief that Rodón, alongside Gerrit Cole, would constitute one of the most formidable pitching duos in MLB. However, the outcome diverged from expectations, with the Yankees witnessing Gerrit Cole earning the American League Cy Young Award while Rodon found himself among the worst in MLB.
Rodón’s contributions this season were limited to just 14 starts, and most of them lacked competitiveness. Concluding the 2023 season with a 6.85 ERA and ranking in the first percentile for barrel rate, he became vulnerable to opposing hitters to an extent that mirrored facing a leisurely slow-pitch softball pitcher in a beer league. Despite this, as things stand, Rodón is positioned to be the team’s probable second starter following Cole. This raises concerns for the Yankees, especially as they are approaching the 2024 season with a win-now mindset, emphasized by the acquisition (potentially for one season) of Juan Soto.
At the Winter Meetings earlier this month, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman expressed contentment with their current roster. However, he also highlighted the importance of considering opportunities to strengthen the team’s front end, indicating a willingness to pursue such opportunities if they arise.
Apart from Rodon, there are three other uncertainties within the current pitching rotation. Nestor Cortes, limited to just 12 starts this season, faced setbacks with two stints on the injured list due to a shoulder strain. Since 2018, the Yankees starter has surpassed 100 innings only once, and the lone occasion in 2022, where he achieved a career-high 158 innings, was followed by shoulder problems in the subsequent season. Clarke Schmidt, currently slated as the No. 4 starter, shares similar workload apprehensions.
Schmidt logged 159 innings in 2023, marking his highest pitch count across all levels. The fifth spot in the rotation, as it stands, is likely to be contested in camp between Will Warren and Clayton Beeter. Warren, with the most favorable Stuff+ ranking among all Triple-A pitchers this season, recorded an impressive 149 strikeouts in 129 innings spanning both Double-A and Triple-A, making him the frontrunner for the fifth starter position at present.
During the Yankees‘ starts not featuring Cole in the previous season, the starters collectively posted a record of 32-46 with a 5.06 ERA, even encompassing a perfect game from Domingo Germán. Despite Cole’s contributions, the Yankees concluded the season ranking 20th in fWAR, 19th in FIP, and 18th in ERA for starting rotations. The team is banking on both Rodón and Cortes to rebound with improved performance and health, expecting Schmidt to withstand the strain after surpassing his innings career-high. Beyond him, the Yankees are relying on untested depth. This underscores the significance of signing Yamamoto and underscores the continued need for at least one more starter, potentially someone like Frankie Montas, a player that Cashman mentioned the team has explored bringing back.
|Yankees projected rotation for 2024
Will the Yankees be able to win over Yamamoto?
Yamamoto finds himself in the offseason spotlight, with the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, Phillies, Giants, and Blue Jays all expressing interest. However, the primary contenders are believed to be the Yankees, Mets, and Dodgers. Over the weekend, Yamamoto was spotted in Connecticut, where he dined at Mets owner Steve Cohen’s residence in the company of manager Carlos Mendoza and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Subsequently, on Sunday, Yamamoto reportedly engaged in another meeting with the Yankees, as disclosed by the New York Post, following a prior meeting with the team in Los Angeles the previous week.
Yamamoto’s asking price has experienced a substantial uptick since the commencement of the offseason. In November, Tim Britton from The Athletic projected a seven-year, $203 million contract for Yamamoto. However, current standing offers exceed $300 million for his services. If Yamamoto secures a deal surpassing the $300 million mark, the total expenditure will surpass Cole’s $324 million contract, considering the mandatory posting fee to the Orix Buffaloes, Yamamoto’s Japanese team in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).
A precisely $300 million contract would entail an overall cost of approximately $350 million, inclusive of the posting fee. Notably, no pitcher in MLB history, aside from Cole, has commanded a contract surpassing $300 million.
Opting for another $300 million-plus contract would propel the Yankees into uncharted financial territory. Without shedding salary, their payroll is likely to breach the fourth luxury tax threshold for the first time. Looking ahead, Soto is poised to become a free agent next offseason, and considering his age and track record, he’s expected to secure a contract exceeding $400 million.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has historically exercised fiscal restraint in high-value spending, but actively pursuing both Soto and Yamamoto implies a certain comfort level in expanding the payroll for the current year and beyond. Before accounting for potential deals with Soto and Yamamoto, the Yankees have already committed over $166 million to the 2025 payroll. If they secure long-term agreements with Yamamoto and Soto, the figure would surpass $200 million for just seven players.
This calculation underscores the significance of the team’s young talents, including Anthony Volpe, Jasson Domínguez, Austin Wells, Oswald Peraza, and others, meeting their projected performance levels. Given the impracticality and infeasibility of excessive spending to complete the roster, the team heavily relies on these prospects emerging from the system.
However, securing Yamamoto’s signature is imperative for the Yankees. His impressive track record includes three consecutive seasons in NPB with ERAs below 2.00. Such sustained excellence has not been seen in MLB since Grover Cleveland Alexander achieved it from 1915 to 1917. The addition of Yamamoto has the potential to transform the Yankees into the “truly special group” they aspired to be last season.
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