Yankees have secret edge in Yoshinobu Yamamoto chase that Mets can't match

How about that? Patience could be a virtue.
World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan
World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan / Christopher Pasatieri/GettyImages

Like Gerrit Cole's favorite fine wine and childhood hero Andy Pettitte, it turns out the Yankees have been saving something special for Yoshinobu Yamamoto's free agency all along.

While it seemed like Cole's free agency cluster was pretty crowded back in 2019, it turned out that the Yankees' priorities aligned with the right-hander's historic fandom perfectly. They'd been watching him like a hawk from across the country, waiting to drop off some mementos, play on his nostalgia, and -- of course -- offer the most money.

Despite a clogged field at the moment (and Steve Cohen's and Kodai Senga's plainly registered interest), it appears the Yankees might be trying a similar trick on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the biggest name in the 2023-24 pitching market. The Japanese right-hander will earn a deal with a $200 million baseline, which seems poised to rise as the remainder of the market underwhelms.

That means, in a Cohen/Steinbrenner/Dodgers/Red Sox-fueled bidding war, every little edge counts. Yamamoto will want to see dollar signs, sure, but he also might enjoy symbols of a franchise's devotion. As it turns out, the Yankees have held No. 18 -- traditionally worn by Japanese aces -- since Andrew Benintendi's departure with the express purpose of giving it to Yamamoto this winter. That's a year of scouting that could end with a touching story in the style of Cole's "Yankee Fan: Today, Tomorrow, Forever" sign.

Yankees have been waiting a long time to make Yoshinobu Yamamoto their next No. 18

The Mets? They're retiring No. 18 this summer for Darryl Strawberry. A worthy cause, but that timing's gotta sting (and why didn't Senga demand it?).

The Yankees love a good narrative, sure, but they prefer a good pitcher, and Yamamoto appears to be clearly the best available in any country at the moment. He captured his third consecutive NPB MVP equivalent on Tuesday, joining legendary countrymen Ichiro and Hisashi Yamada. Even Hideki Matsui didn't accomplish the feat before moving stateside.

Yamamoto will have big shoes to fill no matter which landing spot he chooses, but the Yankees, from Brian Cashman's flight to Japan to this grand uniform gesture, have made their intentions very clear. He doesn't have to be an ace with the Yankees; Cole has that taken care of. But, with a limited supply of available jersey numbers, they'll still ensure he dresses like one.