Yankees zero in on two starters to reinforce their rotation

Yankees look to add Aaron Nola to reinforce their rotation.
John Allen
Wednesday November 15, 2023

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The New York Yankees have finalized two top-tier, free-agent starting pitchers as their targets this offseason to upgrade their rotation. According to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, the Yankees are among the most engaged teams in the pursuit of free-agent starters, expressing interest in both Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto and the seasoned Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola.

After a disappointing season where the Yankees finished with an 82-80 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016, they are looking to make a significant impact in the free-agent market. Yamamoto stands out as one of the most coveted free agents, rivaling even Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani. At the age of 25, Yamamoto is younger than many players when they hit free agency for the first time, and his impressive success in the Pacific League adds to his appeal.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto has been with the Orix Buffaloes since 2017, amassing an impressive record of 70-29 with a stellar 1.82 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and 922 strikeouts over 897 innings. His standout performance came in the 2023 season, where he achieved a remarkable 16-6 record in 23 Pacific League appearances, boasting a 1.21 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP, and 169 strikeouts across 164 innings.

Yamamoto’s excellence drew attention, especially when he threw a no-hitter in September. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was in attendance during this remarkable feat, highlighting New York’s keen interest in the talented right-handed pitcher.

Japanese athlete Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Cashman’s history of successful forays into the Japanese pitching market includes signing Masahiro Tanaka before the 2014 season. Tanaka went on to achieve a notable 78-46 record with a 3.74 ERA during his seven seasons with the Yankees, earning two All-Star selections.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Yamamoto is anticipated to be posted this week, with the Yankees among the teams reportedly interested. The New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Toronto Blue Jays are also rumored to be in the mix.

Yankees are targeting Aaron Nola

Thirty-year-old Nola brings a wealth of experience with nine years in Major League Baseball. The former All-Star has compiled a career record of 90-71, showcasing a 3.72 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and an impressive 1,582 strikeouts across 1,422 innings. While the previous season marked one of his statistically weaker performances with a 12-9 record, a 4.46 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP, his strikeout rate of 9.4 per nine innings was the lowest since his rookie year in 2015.

However, Nola displayed an improved performance in the playoffs during the Phillies’ journey to the National League Championship Series, boasting a 3-1 record with a 2.45 ERA in four starts.

Despite significant investments in starting pitching in recent years, such as the nine-year, $324 million contract for Gerrit Cole in 2019 and the six-year, $162 million deal for Carlos RodĂłn last offseason, the Yankees are actively exploring options in the free-agent market, with a focus on established players like Aaron Nola.

Since joining the Yankees, Cole has consistently delivered as one of the league’s premier pitchers. On the other hand, RodĂłn faced challenges with injuries in the previous season, resulting in a less impressive performance with a 3-8 record and a 6.85 ERA in 14 starts.

While some argue that the Yankees’ primary requirement is additional offensive support for standout hitter Aaron Judge, the potential departure of pitchers like Luis Severino, Domingo Germán, and Frankie Montas in free agency highlights the ongoing need for bolstering the team’s pitching staff.

Seven players, including Aaron Nola, rejected $20,325,000 qualifying offers from their former teams on Tuesday, choosing to explore more lucrative opportunities in the free-agent market.

Apart from Nola’s decision to decline the offer from the Philadelphia Phillies, the list of players who turned down qualifying offers includes Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels), Cody Bellinger (Chicago Cubs), pitchers Josh Hader and Blake Snell (San Diego), Sonny Gray (Minnesota), and third baseman Matt Chapman (Toronto).

A qualifying offer, determined by the average of the top 125 contracts based on annual value, grants the player’s former team an additional selection in the upcoming amateur draft if the player signs with another team before July. However, the signing team may lose one or two draft picks.

The introduction of qualifying offers occurred after the 2012 season, and out of 131 offers, only 10 have been accepted to date.

Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani headlines the 2023 MLB free agent class that also features starting pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez, Jordan Montgomery and Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Ohtani is coming off a historic 2022 season where he hit .304 with 44 home runs while going 15-5 with a 3.14 ERA as a pitcher. However, he underwent a second Tommy John surgery in September and is not expected to pitch again until 2025.

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s deadline to set 40-man rosters in advance of the Rule 5 draft, several players were designated for assignment to open up roster spots. This included Washington first baseman Dominic Smith, Seattle first baseman Mike Ford, Cleveland right-handers Cal Quantrill and Michael Kelly, Tampa Bay right-handers Cooper Criswell and Calvin Faucher, and Kansas City catcher Logan Porter and righty Josh Staumont.

Among arbitration-eligible players agreeing to 2023 contracts were Kansas City reliever Taylor Clarke, Washington outfielder Victor Robles, and Nationals reliever Tanner Rainey, avoiding the arbitration process with their one-year deals.

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