With the Yankees offseason unfortunately underway, the Yankees pitching staff has a few big question marks heading into the New Year. What looked to be an area of strength quickly turned into a liability as Nestor Cortes, Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino all had disappointing years. With the team potentially losing Severino and Frankie Montas to free agency, the Yankees pitching staff would be bolstered tremendously by Japanese phenomenon Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
The Japanese Cy Young
In the Nippon Pro Baseball League, the top baseball league in Japan, the Sawamura Award, named after ace Eiji Sawamura, is the Japanese equivalent to the Cy Young Award in Major League Baseball. Over the past couple of seasons, Yoshinobu Yamamoto has won the award. In each of the past two seasons, Yamamoto has accumulated 33 total wins while finishing 2021 with a 1.39 ERA and 2022 with a 1.68.
For context on how difficult of an award it is to win, former Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka has also only won the award twice while Yu Darvish took it home once. Furthermore, Yamamoto has won each of the last two MVP awards for the Pacific League.
What makes Yamamoto such an attractive target for the Yankees pitching staff is his incredible command. Since becoming a big league pitcher in 2017, Yamamoto has an absurd 2.0 walks per 9 innings, slightly better than Gerrit Cole’s insane 2.3.
While pitching in MLB is seen as more difficult than in Japan, the Japanese league is seen as the equivalent of quad-A, and Yamamoto’s control should continue into MLB. Additionally, a strong splitter, cutter and curveball has helped the young Japanese ace average over 9 strikeouts a game.
Finally, at only 25 years of age, Yamamoto would be a feature in the Yankees pitching rotation for the foreseeable future. With some uncertainty around Gerrit Cole’s upcoming opt out over the next season, Yamamoto could serve as either a number one or two pitcher in the Yankees rotation.
What Could Stop Yamamoto From Joining the Yankees Pitching Staff
Over the last few years, it seems that the biggest obstacle for the Yankees from signing big time free agents is the lack of a willingness to spend from ownership and the front office. While the team has made some splashes, they might feel that they have already spent enough on high end pitching.
Gerrit Cole was signed to a record breaking contract and the team may be more willing to save money to re-sign him after his opt out. Additionally, they did spend heavily on Carlos Rodon this past offseason, which has been a disaster so far.
However, with Severino and Montas both coming off of the books this year and with plenty of uncertainty surrounding the future of Domingo German, the Yankees pitching staff needs all the support it can get.
While the Yankees pitching staff would be bolstered by Yamamoto, the team would need to convince him that they are the right team to join. While the Yankees have been linked to the Japanese ace and have a pretty extensive history with Japanese ball players, there is no guarantee that Yamamoto would want to join the team.
A disastrous 2023 saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time since 2016, plenty of big Yankees questions need to be answered. Would Yamamoto feel confidant that Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone can lead the team back to the Postseason?
Additionally, teams like the Mets, Giants, Red Sox have all been rumored to be connected to the Japanese hurler.
The Links Between the Two
Perhaps the most important link between the Yankees pitching staff and Yamamoto was the fact that Brian Cashman and top lieutenant Omar Minaya were in attendance for Yamamoto’s no hitter back in September.
While its encouraging that the Yankees top-brass was in attendance, 15 other teams also had scouts at the game. If the Yankees think Yamamoto is the guy to improve the pitching staff, they better act quickly.
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