Next Monday in the city of Nashville, the annual baseball Winter meetings will commence, a cluster of MLB team executives and personnel all huddled in hotel room suites. I have covered numerous Winter Meetings and it has become a spectacle of who is walking around the various lobbies and listening to scenarios of possible trades.
Yes, it’s a spectacle, but it’s the time of year for baseball business. A media spectacle as well because of a few names on the market that are drawing interest and could change the complexion of one or more teams. The focus on two prominent names besides Shohei Ohtani.
-Two-time American League MVP Shohei Ohtani is bound to receive a record free agent contract, but more likely not coming to New York.
-Yoshinobu Yamamoto the highly touted Japanese right-hander is possibly headed to New York
And there is continued talk about Juan Soto as a possible trade target. The Yankees are a contender to get the young superstar, pending on what course the San Diego Padres take on the 25-year old who hit 35 home runs and compiled 109 RBI. Soto is scheduled to be a free agent to be after the 2024 season. The Yankees need that potent bat in their lineup that would change their complexion.
But the Yamamoto discussion is certainly creating a buzz. His negotiating window concludes January 4 and he’s expected to be signed prior. Here is where the Mets are involved in this discussion with needs for their starting rotation and owner Steve Cohen certainly has the assets to sign Yamamoto.
The Yankees emphasis is more geared to their lineup and I don’t expect Yamamoto to be their next star pitcher signed out of Japan. With the second highest payroll of teams in 2023, they are not ruled out of the equation.
But from a New York baseball view, the Mets stand a better chance at signing Yamamoto. Consider the secure rotation sports are Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana and possibly Joey Lucchesi who had a solid finish returning from Tommy John surgery (4-0, 2.89 ERA, 46.2 innings, 1.31 WHIP).
The Mets reality is to obtain a solid starter to follow Senga, who showed consistency and received votes for 2023 NL Rookie of the Year. No secret there’s a need for the Mets to reinforce their rotation and bullpen.
Yamamoto will take his time as the most sought after free agent pitcher on the market. SNY’s Andy Martino reported he will start meeting with teams this week via Zoom and phone calls from Japan. Multiple teams are also interested in signing him and the Mets are looking at a face-to-face meeting.
So the search is on for the Mets. Reality, though, the Phillies, Mariners, Rangers and Giants will reportedly be players as will the Yankees. The finale of when and where Yamamoto lands will be a major piece of the Mets offseason plans.
A report out of Japan this week said that Yamamoto would prefer to pitch on a team with other Japanese players, hence the talk is strong the Mets could be early favorites with Senga who is currently their ace. Senga was an international free agent and signed a five-year $75 million contract. It was a risk, but Senga adjusted to pitching every sixth day, was an NL All-Star as he completed a rookie season of 12-7 and 2.98 ERA.
So why is Yamamoto so coveted among other teams seeking him for their rotation? His name has been prominently mentioned once it was learned his intentions of being posted.
“His fastball and breaking ball that throws off hitters,” a reputed baseball evaluator commented when I asked. “I observed Yamamoto up close in Japan with a consistent fastball at 95. His breaking balls are difficult to make adjustments and hitters are perplexed. No question he is highly sought.”
Yamamoto has compiled a 70-29 record. This year he posted a 1.21 ERA in 164 innings and struck out 169 hitters. In the Japan Series he struck out 14, a series record in Game 6 with the Orix Buffaloes. True, as baseball personnel will always question, can he post similar numbers in a different league and competitive element of Major League Baseball?
Billy Eppler, former Mets General manager, flew to Japan and scouted Yamamoto during the season and the buzz commenced. Recall Eppler signed Senga, though circumstances have changed now that David Stearns is in command as Director of Baseball Operations.
Whether Stearns goes along with the plan to sign Yamamoto, and if $250 million will get him to Citi Field is the question. The search for Yamamoto begins.
Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter @Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso