Yashinobu Yamamoto’s Free Agency Takes an Intriguing Turn Without LA

The Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes are infinitely more interesting and illuminating than Shohei Ohtani’s free agency for many reasons: People have been allowed to report on them, there seems to be more suitors than just the Dodgers and a couple are based in the last few baseball-rabid markets in America. While I whole-heartedly agree that we needn’t obsess over the AL and NL Easts, it’s more fun when they’re involved. (And, no, Toronto doesn’t count.) The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Phillies have all appeared in substantiated rumors for the Japanese ace. The hierarchy of spending in the Northeast has shifted in the past decade, with the Mets, Phillies and occasionally the Red Sox willing to spend as much as, if not more than, the Evil Empire. The results haven’t quite been there for the Mets or Phillies, and Boston’s success is sporadic, but with the Yanks mired in a World Series drought, there is no de facto superpower on the East Coast. Whoever lands Yamamoto, if he doesn’t go to the Dodgers, would wrest the bat-shaped scepter from Steve Cohen’s hands — unless the Mets end up victorious. Then it’s just more of the same, and we can expect Yamamoto to get traded to the Dodgers when they flame out by the All-Star break. Philadelphia is intriguing because recently they’ve been the most successful playoff team of the bunch, and I’m including the Dodgers. The Phils were a blown save or two away from back-to-back World Series appearances in October and bolster a lineup that’s shown a knack for getting hot when few else can. A trio of Zach Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Yamamoto going into any seven-game series would give Rob Thompson a ton of flexibility, and insurance in case Nola’s regular season inconsistency finally bleeds into the playoffs. It’d also be another major coup in a string of them for Philly that led to substantial signings of Bryce Harper and Trea Turner. In years past, the Yankees’ cachet, and pocketbook, would’ve been more than enough to land coveted stars like Harper and Turner. Don’t fool yourself, on MLB’s list of expensive rosters, the Pinstripes are still in the top three. The return on investment just might not be what it once was, but that’s more on Brian Cashman. It’s hysterical to watch the embattled Yankees’ GM play negotiator, with fans screaming at him to spend money the Steinbrenner’s won’t, and agents using that leverage to force overpays. Nevermind that the “ace” New York scooped up for $162 million last offseason had the worst year of his career in 2023, no Yankee pitcher outside of Garrett Cole has really been consistent or healthy in five years, and ownership is uncharacteristically patient (apathetic) with both GM and manager Aaron Boone, go to the Bronx, Yoshi. I heard Yankee Stadium is . . . a baseball stadium. If the Sox nab Yamamoto, it’s a signal to their fanbase that ownership is feeling frisky again, and that Boston’s sway is every bit as alluring as New York’s when they opt to toss money around. The Red Sox and Yankees were bad by their standards last season, yet that was still good enough to hover around .500. While there are areas that need addressing on top of starting pitching, signing Yamamoto is more about maintaining appearances for the AL East powerhouses-turned cellar dwellers. Say the past five or six paragraphs are all for naught, and the Dodgers sign Yamamoto to create a Japanese superteam. That will, and probably should, prompt an existential crisis in MLB. It’s about more than LA deferring $680 million of Ohtani’s $700 million deal, or the Dodgers dropping cash like they’re the Saudi Public Investment Fund. A lot of teams’ local TV contracts are on tenuous ground, the league is flailing for popularity, Rob Manfred doesn’t know the meaning of “marketing” and the biggest brands in the sport can’t get the biggest free agents to return their calls. So, yeah, no pressure, Yoshinobu Yamamoto.