Yoshinobu Yamamoto bidding will renew Yankees-Mets war


The first time was 1980. Dave Winfield was the big fish, and the Mets — under new owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon — were eager to make a splash. And what better way to do that than to roll up their sleeves and take a crack at outbidding George Steinbrenner for Winfield. Frank Cashen, freshly hired as GM, took the swing for them.

“I believe what I hear, and what I hear is that the Mets offered eight years and $1.2 million,” Steinbrenner said early in December. “That’s formidable. But we also will offer something the Mets can’t right now: We can offer a winner.”

In the end, what Steinbrenner also offered was to extend the Mets’ deal by two years, and to add a cost-of-living escalator clause that would ultimately land the two men in court a few years later. But in the moment, facing his first real piggy bank-versus-piggy bank battle with the Mets ever, Steinbrenner got his man.

And that, for the most part, has been that.

Until now.

For all the posturing the Mets did over the summer about reining in their spending, the fact is that Steve Cohen still enjoys the sport’s deepest pockets. And for all the spinning the Yankees did the past few weeks to try to beautify their own 82-80 mess of a summer, the truth is everyone in the Yankees employ is aware that the title-or-bust mandate remains a permanent part of the franchise’s DNA.

The bidding for Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s services are expected to cost at least 0 million. Kyodo News/Sipa USA

So the time is ripe to watch the boys of summer engage in a war of winter. The biggest prize on the market, Shohei Ohtani, still seems a long shot for both, more as a product of geography than of a willingness to spend. But both teams seem intent on making a play for Ohtani’s countryman, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and that’s as good a starting point as any.

Juan Soto would be another one, although that would need to include a willingness to part with prospects in addition to agreeing to a rich, long-term extension. So that makes Yamamoto the perfect battleground for a different kind of Subway Series, with the opening ante expected to be around a cool $200 million.

Even though the Mets are reining in spending, owner Steve Cohen has the deepest pockets. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

And it’s the right time for it. There has been plenty of chatter in recent years that diving into the deep end of the free agent market isn’t the wisest way to build a team, and you can certainly point to the 2023 editions of the Mets and the Padres and the Yankees, to name three, who could back that point up.

But the Phillies have won five playoff series the past two years and transformed Philadelphia into a model baseball town built on the backs of several big-ticket free agent signings (Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos). And the newly crowned champs from Texas only bounced back off the ground following a 102-loss season in 2021 by building their foundation around Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Free agency still works, as long as you acquire the right free agents.

Hal Steinbrenner can follow in his dad’s footsteps by opening his checkbook. Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

And Yamamoto, by all indications, would be the right fit for both the Mets and the Yankees. Which doesn’t mean he will end up here; there’s more teams with money to spend now than there’s been since the dawn of free agency in 1976, when the numbers were still low enough that even small-market teams like Montreal and Cleveland were big free-agent players.

But when the bids begin to build, assuming Yamamoto is bullish on New York, he can do what precious few have ever done: Craft a full-scale bidding war between baseball’s two fiscal monoliths.

This has happened in precious few offseasons. There was Winfield, and when the Mets wouldn’t counter with a blow-away offer Steinbrenner was right, he went with the winning operation. There was 1995, when the Mets made a last-ditch — though mostly-for-show — stab at bringing David Cone back as he neared an agreement to re-up with the Yankees.

There was the odd Carlos Beltran dance in 2004, the Mets making the most aggressive free-agent path they’d ever taken in offering him seven years and $119 million — and Beltran’s agent, Scott Boras, approaching the Yankees and asking for less if they wanted to sign him; they chose to acquire Randy Johnson instead. Three years later the Mets made a strong play for Jorge Posada, but Posada chose to remain a Yankee for life.

And of course there was the curious will-they-or-won’t-they dance that never really happened between the Mets and Aaron Judge a year ago, when a lot of folks thought Cohen might try to flex his muscles and make life difficult for the Yankees, though the alternate offers Judge ultimately pondered came from San Diego and San Francisco, and the Mets sat it out.

The time is ripe. The time is now. Both teams have the means. Both teams have the need. Gentlemen, reach for your checkbooks.

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