Yamamoto bidding war pits Yankees against Mets

Both Yankees and Mets want pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto

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The Mets and Yankees are expressing a clear intention to pursue Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto. This serves as a reminder of their intense rivalry and battle to sign players since the 1980s.

Yamamoto, according to all indications, appears to be a suitable fit for both the Mets and the Yankees. However, this doesn’t guarantee his ultimate landing place, considering the increased number of teams with financial resources compared to the early days of free agency in 1976. Back then, the financial landscape was modest enough that even smaller-market teams like Montreal and Cleveland were significant players in free-agent pursuits.

As the bidding process unfolds, assuming Yamamoto has a favorable view of New York, he could find himself in the unique position of orchestrating a full-scale bidding war between baseball’s two financial powerhouses.

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Yankees vs. Mets bidding war: A blast from the past

Such scenarios have been rare in past offseasons. One notable instance was with Dave Winfield, where the Mets failed to counter with a compelling offer, leading Steinbrenner to secure the deal. Another notable situation occurred in 1995 when the Mets, in a last-ditch effort (mostly for show), attempted to lure David Cone back as he was nearing an agreement to re-sign with the Yankees.

In 1980, the Mets, led by new owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, found themselves in a significant pursuit. Winfield was the coveted figure, and the Mets were determined to make a substantial impact. With the goal of outbidding George Steinbrenner for Winfield, the freshly appointed GM, Frank Cashen, stepped up to the plate for them.

Steinbrenner conveyed, in early December, that based on the information he received, the Mets extended an offer of eight years and $1.2 million, which he acknowledged as significant. However, he highlighted a contrasting advantage that the Yankees possess: the ability to offer a winning environment, something that, as he stated, the Mets couldn’t provide at that moment.

In the end, Steinbrenner sweetened the deal by extending the Mets’ agreement by two years and incorporating a cost-of-living escalator clause. This decision eventually led to a legal dispute between the two parties in the subsequent years. However, in that crucial moment, facing the Mets in their first significant financial showdown, Steinbrenner successfully secured his desired outcome.

In 2004, there was the intriguing dance with Carlos Beltran, where the Mets took their most aggressive free-agent stance, offering seven years and $119 million. Scott Boras, Beltran’s agent, even approached the Yankees with a lower figure, but they opted to acquire Randy Johnson instead. Three years later, the Mets made a robust effort to sign Jorge Posada, who ultimately chose to remain a Yankee for the entirety of his career.

Steve Cohen is rising to the occasion

Despite the Mets’ public declarations of financial restraint during the summer, Steve Cohen remains at the helm with the deepest pockets in the sport. Despite the Yankees’ attempts to reshape their narrative in the past few weeks after a challenging 82-80 season, everyone associated with the Yankees is cognizant that the championship-or-bust expectation remains an enduring element of the franchise’s identity.

Another potential target is Juan Soto, although pursuing him would require a readiness to part with prospects and agree to a substantial, long-term extension. Therefore, Yamamoto emerges as the perfect battleground for a unique kind of Subway Series, with the initial stakes expected to hover around a substantial $200 million.

And the timing is ideal for it. In recent years, there has been considerable discussion about the potential pitfalls of delving into the deep end of the free-agent market as a strategy for team building. The 2023 editions of the Mets, Padres, and Yankees are often cited as examples supporting this viewpoint.

However, the Phillies have contradicted this notion by winning five playoff series in the past two years, effectively transforming Philadelphia into a baseball town admired for its success, driven by significant free-agent acquisitions such as Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, and Nick Castellanos. The newly crowned champions from Texas rebounded from a dismal 102-loss season in 2021 by strategically building their foundation around Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. This success underscores that free agency remains a viable avenue, provided you secure the right free agents.

And let’s not forget the speculative will-they-or-won’t-they scenario that never quite materialized between the Mets and Aaron Judge a year ago. Many anticipated Steve Cohen flexing his financial might to challenge the Yankees, but Judge ultimately considered alternate offers from San Diego and San Francisco, and the Mets remained on the sidelines.

It seems there will be another bidding battle.

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