The bidding for Yoshinobu Yamamoto starts in earnest Tuesday and the Yankees seem to be a strong bet for the start of Japanese baseball.
There are 45 shopping days left to add Yamamoto after he was posted by the Orix Buffaloes though whoever lands him hopes to get a deal done sooner than later. By all indications the Yankee seem to be major players though unlike the process of signing Masahiro Tanaka following the 2013 season, they will likely face major crosstown competition from the deep pockets of billionaire Mets’ owner Steve Cohen.
The first real indication of the Yankee interest occurred in September when Brian Cashman took the long flight to Japan, bought a ticket and was spotted in the front row cheering after Yamamoto threw a no-hitter for the Orix Buffaloes.
Yamamoto is coming to the major leagues after completing his age-25 season with stellar numbers, going 17-6 with a 1.16 ERA in 24 starts as part of a career that has seen him win 70 games in seven seasons in Japan. By comparison, Tanaka was the same age when the Rakuten Golden Eagles posted him following a 24-0 record in 2013 and he wound up getting $155 million from the Yankees.
Yamamoto is likely to command more than what Tanaka was paid in a respectable seven-year run in the Bronx. If they can beat out the Red Sox and Mets Yamamoto seemingly falls in as the number two starter before Gerrit Cole, though perhaps his experience as a two-time Pacific League MVP might make him a co-ace.
By adding Yamamoto, the Yankees can move Carlos Rodon down to number three and Nestor Cortes to number. Wherever Rodon is slotted in, the pressure will be on considering the disastrous results for the first year of his six-year contract but perhaps there is slightly less pressure for a third starter.
There also is the matter of dealing with his agent Joel Wolfe, who happens to represent Giancarlo Stanton. Wolfe and Stanton hit the news cycle because of GM Brian Cashman’s comments about expecting Stanton to be injury and the subsequent response that was viewed as a warning towards clients the Yankees may pursue.
By all indications or at least according to Cashman, the sides cleared the air with Cashman noting how a productive Stanton is a big reason for any success.
“I feel like things got spun out of control with the coverage a week later,” Cashman told reporters last week in Times Square before participating in an annual Sleep Out event to raise awareness for Covenant House. “I had a conversation with Joel Wolfe, who I’ve known a long time, and also our player, Giancarlo Stanton. I feel like everything’s in a good spot.”
And the bidders of Yamamoto figures to reach both coasts. The Angels likely will get involved especially if they lose Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers probably enter the fray and those teams could be competing with other large markets like the Cubs.
As for New York’s history of the Japanese pitching market it has been mixed but mostly positive.
Tanaka dominated at times during his tenure, highlighting it with his performance in Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS against Cleveland, the first of three elimination games the Yankees needed to win.
Before Tanaka, there was Hiroki Kuroda, a steadying presence in his three seasons. Kuroda started with four fairly consistent seasons as a Dodger and then won 38 games in three years with the Yankees in his age 37 through 39 seasons.
Perhaps one of the least successful signings of a Japanese pitcher was Kei Igawa’s five-year, $20 million deal in 2006 in the wake of consecutive first-round postseason exits.
Igawa’s best moment was six scoreless relief innings on April 28, 2007, when Jeff Karstens was seriously injured but other than that game, his stint did not work out as he won two games and made 16 appearances in 2007 and 2008 and by the final three seasons of the deal he languished in the minors and was never an option to rejoin the Yankees.
Prior to Igawa, the Yankees had Hideki Irabu. Irabu struggled at times his first appearances in 1997 but won 13 games as the fifth starter for the 1998 Yankees. How he joined the Yankees also led to the current posting process.
In 1997, the Chiba Lotte Marines sold Irabu’s contact to the San Diego Padres, who had a working agreement with the team. Others were prevented from getting involved but Irabu only wanted to play for the Yankees, who then traded for his negotiating rights and he signed a four-year, $12.8 million deal.
His debut was a hyped event similar to the debut of Fernando Valenzuela with over 50,000 fans for a weeknight game against the Tigers and struck out nine hitters in 6 2 3/ innings on 99 pitches.
While Irabu did not throw as hard as he did in Japan, it seemed he would be a steady back end starter at the minimum but the end of his time with the Yankees began in spring training 1999 with George Steinbrenner’s criticism of his weight. Irabu won 11 games with that 98-win team but also had an ERA of 4.84 ERA and by the end of 1999 he was headed to Montreal before his death in 2011.
Past history should never deter any team like the Yankees from getting involved in this type of pitching market, especially with more ways to analyze players. By all indications the Yankees will be in the mix but this time they could face much more competition than in the bidding for Tanaka.