Yankees refuse to put Yamamoto above Gerrit Cole

Yankees Gerrit Cole and Dodgers' Yamamoto
Inna Zeyger
Sunday December 24, 2023

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The New York Yankees’ grand slam hunt for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the most electrifying arm on the free-agent market, resulted in a strikeout instead. The Japanese pitching phenom, a three-time Sawamura Award winner (NPBL’s Cy Young equivalent), chose the sun-drenched fields of Los Angeles, accepting a staggering 12-year, $325 million deal with the Dodgers. The Bronx Bombers, who wooed Yamamoto like a lovestruck prospect with private jet fly-ins and a pinstriped No. 18 jersey presentation, are left facing a rotation puzzle with Plan B the new marquee attraction.

While the record-breaking contract undoubtedly played a role, whispers suggest a deeper story. Yamamoto, a three-time Sawamura Award winner in the NPBL – baseball’s Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young – had sent teams into a frenzy since the Orix Buffaloes officially posted him on November 21st. A month and a half of anxious negotiations, culminating in a January 4th deadline, played out like a high-stakes poker game. The Yankees, led by Hal Steinbrenner himself, made their case directly to Yamamoto with formal meetings in Los Angeles and New York. Aaron Boone even dangled the coveted No. 18 jersey before the young star.

Yet, Yamamoto’s devastating splitter, pinpoint control, and an arsenal of elite pitches ultimately landed him in Dodger blue. Prized Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto ultimately chose to accept a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $325 million over 12 years. The pact contains an opt-out for Yamamoto after six seasons, enabling him to re-enter free agency in his early 30s.

Yankees don’t let Yamamoto surpass their proven ace

The total financial commitment proved to be the deciding factor, as it slightly exceeds the previous record amount for a starting pitcher – the $324 million awarded to current Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

Yankees Gerrit Cole and Dodgers' Yamamoto

However, the New York Yankees did not lose out on Yamamoto due to inadequate effort. Reports indicate the Yankees actually offered a higher average annual salary, earlier opt-out, and more money in the first five years compared to the Dodgers. But the Japanese ace opted for the 12-year, $325 million offer from Los Angeles featuring a $50 million signing bonus, opt-outs after years six and nine, and backloaded salaries. The cross-town New York Mets proposed matching the same 12-year, $325 million terms in their own failed bid.

While the Yankees brought their best pitch, it appears Yamamoto simply preferred the Dodgers over all other suitors when everything was weighed. The minuscule difference in overall dollars and years offered by Los Angeles ultimately outweighed the greater average annual value presented by the Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees presented Yamamoto with a 10-year, $300 million offer carrying an average annual value of $30 million, topping the Dodgers’ $27.08 million AAV. New York also provided an earlier opt-out after year 5, with evenly distributed salaries not backloaded. Factoring in the posting fee to Yamamoto’s Japanese club the Orix Buffaloes, the Yankees were prepared to commit nearly $200 million over the first 5 seasons before a potential Yamamoto opt-out.

However, the Yankees declined to match the record $324 million total guarantee they had given ace Gerrit Cole. They also did not include a $50 million signing bonus, although financial details could have been adjusted if talks progressed further.

The predetermined move by Yamamoto

The Yankees provided a higher annual value and earlier opt-out opportunity, yet negotiations clearly stalled as Yamamoto went elsewhere. With reports indicating the crosstown Mets offered identical terms to the Dodgers, it appears the Japanese ace and his agent Joel Wolfe masterfully played the market. They leveraged the demand to secure every last dollar, knowing the Dodgers would top the Yankees’ total financial package.

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

In the end, the Yankees simply weren’t willing to establish a new high water mark exceeding their existing investment in Cole. While the Bombers made a spirited push, Yamamoto and his camp maximized leverage for the biggest possible deal.

According to CPA Robert Raiola, director at accounting firm PFK O’Connor Davies, Yamamoto can avoid California state taxes on his $50 million signing bonus if he maintains non-resident status. The Dodgers will pay the full bonus in 2024, potentially saving Yamamoto around $7.2 million.

This suggests Yamamoto had a clear preferred destination in the Dodgers all along. Negotiating with the New York teams appears to have been a calculated move to maximize his leverage and contract value, rather than a sign of genuine interest.

In the end, Yamamoto’s shrewd maneuvering resulted in joining his desired Dodgers while netting every last dollar. The Yankees’ offer was merely part of the equation, not a sincere contender when Yamamoto’s heart resided in Hollywood all along.

A blessing in disguise for the Yankees

Yamamoto secured record-breaking financial terms, but even landing him alongside Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole wouldn’t have ended the Yankees’ quest for rotation reinforcements. The need is now amplified, with question marks around Clarke Schmidt and injury-prone lefties Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes. After trading young pitching talent for sluggers Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo, one wonders if the Yankees still have enough appealing prospects to trade for arms like Corbin Burnes or Dylan Cease.

Filling this void won’t be a walk in the park. Missing out on Yamamoto is a gut punch, but it could be a forced blessing in disguise. Unburdened by a record-breaking contract, the Yankees can explore a universe of options, potentially building a more balanced and sustainable roster. It might not be the headline-grabbing signing they craved, but it could be a blessing in disguise.

The money saved a big plus

Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Alex Verdugo of the New York Yankees

By not caving to Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s astronomical contract demands, the Yankees retained valuable financial flexibility. While his price tag of $325 million is certainly eye-popping, avoiding it grants New York options to build a deeper, more sustainable roster. With payroll room, the Yankees can focus on retaining homegrown stars like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton or pursuing other top free-agent arms. A more balanced budget allows for crafting a competitive roster year-to-year.

In missing out on Yamamoto, the Yankees saved roughly $80 million for the 2024 season alone. This windfall enables aggressively re-signing Juan Soto, while also reassuring Gerrit Cole of his undisputed ace status as his 2024 opt-out clause looms. Splurging on other proven pitchers like Blake Snell or convincing Jordan Montgomery to return are now viable scenarios.

The Yankees showed a willingness to make Yamamoto among MLB’s highest-paid pitchers, reportedly offering $30 million annually over fewer years than the Dodgers. However, exercising fiscal responsibility and avoiding extremes also carries wisdom. His dominance facing Japanese lineups does not guarantee equivalent success facing deeper, more powerful MLB batting orders. Only time will tell if Yamamoto merits his record contract in the demanding NL.

In the end, the Yankees stuck to their valuation principles. While Yamamoto is enticing, setting new spending records carries excessive risk. Avoiding reckless overpaying, the Yankees now have the flexibility to build a complete contender for 2023 and beyond.

Allows infuse of home-grown talent and less pressure

With Yamamoto unavailable, the onus now falls on the Yankees’ promising homegrown pitching prospects. Young talents like Luis Gil, Domingo Acevedo, and Clarke Schmidt are on the cusp of major league readiness. Bypassing the Japanese sensation accelerates their development, as New York invests in building from within. Growing pitching stars in-house not only provides cost savings but fosters organizational culture. This youth movement could unearth the next legendary Bronx bomber hurler.

A Japanese newspapers coverage highlights hyped chase of Yoshinobu Yamamoto by Yankees, Dodgers, and other MLB teams.

Additionally, tempered expectations allow the Yankees a more patient, big-picture approach. Yamamoto’s arrival would have generated immense pressure to win immediately. Instead, his absence enables calmly crafting a well-balanced roster built for long-term excellence. The Yankees can prudently experiment, refine young players, and construct a sustaining foundation.

Rather than seeking instant gratification through a blockbuster signing, measured organizational development becomes the focus. This philosophical shift could prove liberating for the franchise. By keeping expectations realistic, the Yankees can strategically build both for today and tomorrow.

Yankees now have more strategic flexibility

While missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto stings, alternative pitching options still intrigue. Veteran free agents like Zack Greinke or bounce-back candidate Justin Verlander could provide short-term upside at a lower cost. Additionally, the Yankees farm system arms offer trade bait to net established talents. With Yamamoto unavailable, exploring every creative alternative is imperative.

Tailoring moves to strategic needs grows increasingly important without Yamamoto. The Yankees must evaluate all scenarios to construct an optimal roster reflecting their vision.

Yankees' Juan Soto is shopping at a New York store.

Of course, replacing Yamamoto’s upside poses challenges. Relying on youth brings inherent risk as well. But embracing flexibility catalyzes opportunity.

The Yankees can now deploy their financial freedom to both invest in youth and pursue selective free agents. By adroitly working around Yamamoto’s absence, New York can mold a sustainably dominant roster for years ahead.

While the Yamamoto miss hurts, creative thinking, wise spending, and patience could transform disappointment into an advantage. The Yankees’ future remains bright if lessons are learned from this setback. Sometimes baseball’s greatest victories stem not just from on-field performance but calculated front-office strategy.

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