The Yankees Should Be All Over Yoshinobu Yamamoto
by EJ Fagan
November 1, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
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The Yankees need hitting. Like, a lot of hitting. They need a third basemen. They need a left fielder. They need a center fielder until Dominguez returns. When the Yankees signed Carlos Rodon last year, it was a bit of a head scratcher, because they needed just as much hitting a year ago. They could have one of the best staffs in baseball next year if Nestor Cortes and Rodon rebound.
All of that said, I want the Yankees to sign a pitcher.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto is really good. Check out the highlights from his no-hitter in September, which Brian Cashman made a very long flight to watch:
Yamamoto has the classic Japanese ace pitch mix: great control of a mid-90s fastball and a killer hard splitter. He can manipulate the splitter to get a little more movement, or to dive straight down. On top of that, he has a great 12-6 curveball. All three pitches tunnel insanely well. If he were a few inches taller (he’s listed at 5’10”), I’d call him the perfect pitcher.
His stats in Japan are insane. His career ERA in the NPB is 1.82, and that includes his 18-21 year-old seasons with pedestrian ERAs in the low-2.00s. Over the last four years, his ERA has been: 1.21, 1.16, 1.68, 1.39. That’s a run on par, arguably better, with anything that Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Daisuke Matsuzaka did in the NPB. The dude is a stud.
More importantly, he is young. Yoshida turned 25 in August. The Yankees rotation currently consists of Cole (33), Rodon (31), Cortes (29), King (28) and Schmidt (28). Cortes and King are now into their arbitration years. While the Yankees have some depth coming up in the high minors, only Drew Thorpe inspires a lot of confidence as a future top-3 starter. Yoshida will still be in his prime when all of these guys either leave via free agency or enter their decline years.
There has been a lot of dialogue this year about how the Yankees could have had Bryce Harper, but declined to sign him because they already had Judge and Stanton at RF/DH. Even with his injuries, Harper would have been a huge game changer on the Yankees over the last few years.
I think the lesson we should learn from that decision is pretty simple: young superstar free agents don’t come along that often. Even if they don’t fill a huge need right now, they will in the future. I’d be against the Yankees signing Sonny Gray or Blake Snell or another veteran starting pitcher over hitters, but not Yamamoto.
There might be some ancillary benefits as well. The Yankees could consider trading surplus pitching if they have a little more depth. I’d have a hard time seeing San Diego accepting a Juan Soto trade that doesn’t involve some MLB-ready starters, for example. The other ancillary benefit is a little darker: Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes are huge question marks for 2024. If they are bad again, the Yankees 2024 rotation might look like the 2025 rotation. Not good.
Sign the young ace. Figure the rest out later.