Yanks pulling out all the stops in Yamamoto pursuit

December 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

As Brian Cashman rounded the bases this past week, savoring a verbal victory lap in the wake of the Yankees’ acquisition of superstar slugger Juan Soto, he also seemed to provide a sneak preview of talking points in the club’s sales pitch to Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

The Yankees are set to meet with Yamamoto on Monday in Los Angeles, the logical next step after their blockbuster trade for Soto at last week’s Winter Meetings. Just as Soto brings a big bat to supplement Aaron Judge, Yamamoto would provide a terrific complement to Gerrit Cole, the American League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Big names for a big goal. As Cashman said, the Yankees are trying to make the Bronx “the Mecca of baseball.”

“The culture that we have in the Yankees, that we project constantly, is our intent to win,” Cashman said. “We’re in it to win it. So that messaging is constantly being reinforced. We also want to protect and serve our players, put them in the best position to succeed and provide every opportunity or insurance they would have at their disposal so they can be successful.”

So it seems a lock that the 25-year-old Yamamoto will be schooled, chapter and verse, on all aspects of the Yankees’ operations -- everything from the top-notch training and recovery facilities behind closed doors at Yankee Stadium to the brand of laundry detergent used to clean the players’ uniforms.

A special advisor to the organization, Hideki Matsui has been tabbed to assist with the Bombers’ recruitment, and “Godzilla” has plenty to say: If Yamamoto desires, he can dip into Matsui’s personal experiences coming over from Japan to ultimately celebrate a World Series championship in 2009.

The city of New York and its rabid fan base can also serve as selling points. When the Yanks recruited CC Sabathia in late 2008, they commissioned a DVD that included testimonials from the construction workers at the new Yankee Stadium, pleading for the ace to choose pinstripes.

By late 2018, technology had evolved to the point where the Yankees presented Cole with a gold-plated scale model of Yankee Stadium, one that featured an iPad encased in the center with answers to every question that could have possibly been on Cole’s mind. Andy Pettitte also joined the proceedings to tug on Cole’s heartstrings.

Who knows what pitches they might toss for Yamamoto this week?

“We’re not going to trick anybody; we’re not going to be something we’re not,” Cashman said. “We’ve got good people here -- managers, coaches, his new teammates, as well as our fans. The tri-state area has a lot to offer, so I think that’s a recruiting beacon for anybody.”

The Yamamoto pursuit also parallels the Yanks’ chase for Masahiro Tanaka; they were both 25-year-old right-handers at the top of their respective games.

A three-time Sawamura Award winner (Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young), Yamamoto is coming off a 16-6 season with a 1.21 ERA in 23 starts for the Orix Buffaloes, tallying 169 strikeouts against 117 hits and 28 walks in 164 innings.

That campaign included a Sept. 9 no-hitter over Lotte, a contest that just so happened to take place with Cashman applauding from the front row of Zozo Marine Stadium.

“I have no doubt about his abilities,” Cashman said. “You’re going to see a lot of people over here trying to win his decision over. It’s a testament to the quality of talent that he is, and what exists over in Japan.”