Yankees refrained from surrendering uniform number in hopes of acquiring prized Japanese free agent: report

The New York Yankees are coming off their most disappointing season in a generation.

Their 82-80 record was their worst since 1993, the last time they finished under .500.

After winning 99 games in 2022, they missed the postseason for the first time since 2016.

The franchise may look to a star Japanese pitcher to help turn things around. 

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Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Team Japan delivers a pitch against Team Mexico during the fifth inning of the World Baseball Classic semifinals at loanDepot Park March 20, 2023, in Miami, Fla. (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Yoshinobu Yamamoto is available for all 30 MLB teams to sign, and some in the market believe the 25-year-old may land a $200 million contract.

To help in their efforts to land him, the Yankees refrained from issuing his uniform No. 18 last season, SNY reported.

The No. 18 signifies a pitching staff’s ace in Japan. Yamamoto wore the number with the Orix Buffaloes.

When the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka out of Japan in 2014, he switched from No. 18 to 19 out of respect for Hiroki Kuroda, who was wearing the prized number for New York at the time. 

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yamamoto wbc

Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Team Japan celebrates with teammates after a 3-2 victory over Team USA in the 2023 World Baseball Classic championship game at loanDepot Park March 21, 2023, in Miami, Fla.  (Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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Tanaka stuck with No. 19 his entire Yankee career despite he and Kuroda being teammates just one year. Didi Gregorius wore No. 18 during his five seasons with the Yankees, playing shortstop behind Tanaka.

The last time a Yankee wore No. 18 was late in 2022 when Andrew Benintendi wore it as a rental. Benintendi then signed with the Chicago White Sox

Yamamoto also wore the number while with Team Japan during the World Baseball Classic. Shohei Ohtani wears No. 17 with the Los Angeles Angels after wearing No. 11 during his Japan playing days.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitching in Tokyo

Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Team Japan pitches in the fourth inning of a game against Team Australia at Tokyo Dome March 12, 2023 in Bunkyo City, Japan.  (Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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In seven seasons in Japan, Yamamoto has pitched to a 1.72 ERA. With the Orix Buffaloes this year, his ERA was 1.21. In Game 6 of the Japan Series, he threw 138 pitches and struck out 14 batters in a 5-1 victory. His highest ERA in a single season in Japan was the 2.35 he posted in 2017.

Yamamoto’s fastball averages 95 mph, and he can touch 99. He throws four pitches and has great control, owning a 4.56 K/BB.

A $200 million deal would be the most lucrative ever for a player just entering the majors. It will also likely be the most ever given to any Japanese player in the history of baseball until Ohtani signs an anticipated record-breaking deal.

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