Yoshinobu Yamamoto: The Yankees Hope Chance Meeting, Scouting Helps Land Japanese Pitcher

Jiji Press
Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers a pitch against the Chiba Lotte Marines on Saturday night at Zozo Marine Stadium.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone has met Japanese pitching sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Once, very briefly.

The Yankees hope to find out soon if Boone’s chance meeting with the 25-year-old right-hander pays off for the team.

“I’ve met him once before in the past actually, and I do plan on meeting him again, yes,” Boone said Tuesday at Major League Baseball’ s annual winter meetings.

When pressed for more details, Boone made it sound very much by chance.

“Just in kind of passing at some point in the winter. He was in a place that I was, and I got introduced to him, so that was it,” Boone said.

Yamamoto is the prized international free agent of this offseason after going 68-29 with a 1.84 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over his seven seasons in Japan. The Yankees had scouts evaluating Yamamoto this year with the Orix Buffaloes.

New York general manager Brian Cashman said the team had a representative at every one of Yamamoto’s games, and he was on hand himself when Yamamoto threw a no-hitter.

“It made my trip worthwhile, flying all that way to watch the artistry play out,” Cashman said. “That was, again, really moving. So for him to do that for his fans, his team as they were going through their playoff efforts, it was cool.”

Cashman said he didn’t learn anything new about Yamamoto’s talent, thanks to the diligent work of Yankees scouts. New York knew Yamamoto might be posted, giving major league teams the chance to sign him as a free agent, and didn’t want to leave any stone unturned when it came to pursuing him.

Other teams also sent staffers to watch Yamamoto, and Cashman said he wasn’t going to make the mistake of not being there, too.

“All of it plays a part,” Cashman said. “A negotiation’s an important part of it. But those type of personal touches are also important. So I’d rather put our best foot forward in every way and not just, `Here’s what our offer is,’ and then leave it like that.”

Boone said it’s clear there are a lot of suitors for Yamamoto.

“I feel quite confident that he is going to come over here and be a really special top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher,” Boone said.

AP Photo/George Walker IV
New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone responds to questions during the Major League Baseball winter meetings Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin has been impressed with the right-hander as well.

“You watch the video and you can see why he has, puts up the numbers that he does,” Melvin said. “It looks like he’s quite the competitor, too. The split swing and miss, the heaters, upper 90s (mph), curveball, slow you down, speed you up, he’s 25 years old. There are a lot of teams that are going to be in on him.”

Big league teams have until 5 p.m. EST on Jan. 4 to sign Yamamoto.