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Yoshinobu Yamamoto: Mets Owner Steve Cohen Went to Japan to Meet with Yamamoto

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, of Japan, pitches to Australia in the first inning of a Pool B game at the World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, March 12, 2023.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — New York Mets owner Steve Cohen and president of baseball operations David Stearns went to Japan before the winter meetings to speak with free agent pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto and his family.

“I think it demonstrates Steve’s commitment to do everything he possibly can to bring players to New York,” Stearns said Wednesday as the winter meetings ended.

A 25-year-old right-hander, Yamamoto was 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA this season for the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League, striking out 169 and walking 28 in 164 innings. Major League Baseball teams have until Jan. 4 to sign him.

Cohen’s trip was first reported by The Athletic.

“Clearly when you’re in the middle of a big free agent pursuit, every club’s going to meet with him,” Stearns said. “I try not to look at it as selling and I try to look at it as as providing information about who we are as an organization and what we want to do and what we want to become.”

Stearns wouldn’t say whether Mets pitcher Kodai Senga, who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, joined the meeting.

Yamamoto also is being pursued by the Yankees among other MLB teams. General manager Brian Cashman was on hand to watch Yamamoto’s no-hitter against the Lotte Marines on Sept. 9. The Yankees plan to meet with the pitcher on Monday in California, a person familiar with the planning told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because details were not announced.

“I don’t know if anybody can compete with Steve Cohen,” Cashman said Tuesday. “We can just concentrate on what we’re going to concentrate on. Obviously, it’s a player of interest and we’ll compete for him and see where that takes us, and it will be enough or won’t be enough.”

Yamamoto is 70-29 with 1.82 ERA in seven seasons with Orix. He struck out a Japan Series record 14 in a Game 6 win over Hanshin on Nov. 5, throwing a 138-pitch complete game.

“This is a big decision for any free agent where to sign,” Stearns said. “They deserve to have all the information … to make the most informed decision and the right decision for them and their family.”

By making the trip with Cohen, Stearns presumably was on a private plane.

“He travels well,” Stearns said. “I was not in the back of the boat.”

NOTES: New York agreed to a one-year contract with Michael Tonkin, who was 7-3 with a 4.28 ERA in 45 relief appearances this year with Atlanta, the first big league games since 2017 for the 34-year-old right-hander. The deal is a split contract, with a lower rate of pay when assigned to the minor leagues. New York also selected right-hander Justin Slaten from the Texas Rangers’ system in the winter meeting draft of unprotected players, then traded him to Boston for minor league lefty Ryan Ammons and cash. Ammons, 22, was a 10th-round pick in July’s amateur draft out of Clemson.