Yanks to pivot to Plan B as Yamamoto heads to Dodgers

December 22nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- If there was any remaining question about how strongly desired the challenge of a big spotlight, it was answered for manager Aaron Boone early in their first meeting, when the standout right-hander asked for a scouting report on the Yankees’ most formidable competitors.

“We talked about some different rivalries, what the stadium is like in a playoff environment or for big regular-season games against the Red Sox,” Boone said on Thursday. “We open the regular season in Houston. So we talked about those things. You could see those competition things kind of light him up a little bit.”

Not enough to sway his decision, apparently. Yamamoto agreed to a 12-year, $325 million contract with the Dodgers late on Thursday evening, opting to join Shohei Ohtani in Los Angeles. The Yankees reportedly bid $300 million for Yamamoto; the Dodgers matched an offer made by the Mets. The Blue Jays, Giants, Phillies and Red Sox also had interest.

So concludes a saga that takes the Yanks’ top pitching target off the board, a player whom the organization had scouted in person for more than a year, including a September no-hitter for the Orix Buffaloes that was pitched with general manager Brian Cashman applauding from the front row.

Though Yanks executives felt good about their chances of landing Yamamoto, they have been considering Plan Bs. Their attention now could turn to reunions with Jordan Montgomery or Frankie Montas, a trade for the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes, or a run at Japanese import Shota Imanaga.

Yamamoto and his agent, Joel Wolfe, met with a Yankees contingent that included Boone, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine, general manager Brian Cashman and pitching coach Matt Blake on Dec. 11 at a mansion in the Hollywood Hills.

They met again on Sunday in Manhattan, according to Boone, who was in the Bronx on Thursday to participate in a pop-up holiday event distributing food and toys with the NYPD’s 44th Precinct and the Food Bank for New York City.

“He’s a special dude,” Boone said of Yamamoto. “There’s some presence to him; comfortable in his skin and confident, but a humility to him. It’s just been nice to get to know him in less formal environments, where you can kind of let your hands drop and just have real conversations. It’s been fun to do that.”

Boone said that the Yankees included Hideki Matsui, a special advisor to Cashman, as part of their pitch. Matsui did not attend in person, but he recorded a video message for Yamamoto and sent an autographed jersey.

The Yankees also presented Yamamoto with a pinstriped No. 18 jersey, which is his preferred number.

“I gave him that jersey. It’s his if he wants to keep it,” Boone said.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, he’ll be wearing something else. Boone said that his main takeaway from the meetings with Yamamoto was that “he wants to be great.”

“He’s been looking forward to this,” Boone said. “He’s a guy that you can certainly see is very invested in his craft. There’s some similarities between him and Gerrit [Cole] in how dedicated and disciplined and all-in they are on pitching, baseball, their body and how to be successful. Different personalities, different people, but that obsession with their craft came across.”

They’ll have a chance to see those skills from the other side soon. Yamamoto, Ohtani and the Dodgers are scheduled to visit Yankee Stadium for a three-game series from June 7-9.