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The Yankees Have Already Given Yoshinobu Yamamoto a No. 18 Jersey. Aaron Boone Hopes He Keeps It

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File
Japan’s Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers a pitch during the fifth inning of a World Baseball Classic game against Mexico on March 20, 2023, in Miami.

NEW YORK (AP) — Yoshinobu Yamamoto already has New York Yankees pinstripes with No. 18, the numeral prized by many Japanese pitchers.

I gave him that jersey. It’s his if he wants to keep it, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday.

Some Japanese pitchers covet No. 18 because the Central League’s Tokyo Yomiuri Giants assigned it to their ace in the 1960s. Daisuke Matsuzaka wore it with Boston, and Hiroki Kuroda was the last Yankees pitcher with the number from 2012-14. Kenta Maeda included having the number in his Los Angeles Dodgers contract, and eight-time All-Star Tomoyuki Sugano wears it on the Yomiuri Giants.

A 25-year-old right-hander pursued by top teams on the free agent market, Yamamoto has until Jan. 4 to sign with a Major League Baseball team based on when he was posted by the Orix Buffaloes. Boone and Yankees officials met with Yamamoto in Los Angeles and again in Manhattan, and the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco are among the other teams in pursuit.

All the teams are now putting their best foot forward and negotiating. That’s above my pay grade. So we’ll see where it lands, Boone said. “Special dude. Really some presence to him. Comfortable in his skin. Confident, but a humility to him. So it’s just been nice to get to know him.”

New York’s presentation include a video from former Yankees star Hideki Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP.

I think he wants to be great, Boone said. “There’s some similarities there between him and Gerrit (Cole) in how dedicated and disciplined and all-in they are on pitching and baseball and their body how to be successful.”

Boone spoke just north of Yankee Stadium before assisting for the second straight year in food and toy distribution with the New York Police Department’s 44th Precinct and the Food Bank For New York City.

A few hours after Boone’s appearance, outfielder Alex Verdugo spoke on a Zoom to discuss the Dec. 5 trade that sent him from Boston to New York. Verdugo lined a tiebreaking, opposite-field RBI double against Yamamoto for Mexico in the semifinals of this year’s World Baseball Classic.

He was very fast to the plate, so it was hard to get your timing as a hitter, Verdugo said.

New York also acquired All-Star outfielder Juan Soto from San Diego, joining a batting order that has Aaron Judge and three players coming off subpar seasons and injuries: Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and DJ LeMahieu.

It’s Juan Soto. I can count on one hand the amount of hitters, including Aaron Judge, that belong in that conversation, Boone said. “Hopefully we couple it with reasonable health around him and some guys returning to form, then it’s got a chance to be a special lineup.”

Boone sounded pleased with rookie center fielder Jasson Domínguez’s recovery from Tommy John surgery on Sept. 20.

I’m optimistic it’ll be sooner rather than later, Boone said of Domínguez’s return. “I think when you get to spring training, he’s going to look a lot like a regular player.”