Yoshinobu Yamamoto (18) of Team Japan pitches in the eighth...

Yoshinobu Yamamoto (18) of Team Japan pitches in the eighth inning against Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 20, 2023, in Miami. Credit: TNS/Eric Espada

NASHVILLE – Brian Cashman spoke in a borderline confident tone, like a man who felt he had a better than even chance of getting, well, his man.

That, of course, remains to be seen when it comes to Japanese star pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, whom the Yankees scouted all season in Japan, with Cashman himself taking a trip there in September and was rewarded by seeing the righthander throw a no-hitter.

Money will talk – as it always does when it comes to free agents – and speculation at these meetings has the 25-year-old - posted after the season by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball League after going 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA, 0.884 WHIP, and 169 strikeouts in 164 innings -  receiving a contract easily surpassing $200 million, and one that perhaps approaches $300 million or a tick beyond.

Regardless, indications are there’s mutual interest between the parties as word from various voices in Japan baseball circles is that Yamamoto very much desires a big stage and has mentioned the Yankees specifically as being an appealing option.

Aaron Boone smiled when asked early Tuesday afternoon at baseball’s annual winter meetings if the pitcher would look “good in pinstripes” and responded: “Yeah, I think he probably would.”

During his gathering with reporters later on Tuesday – a far more docile session than the already infamous fire-and-brimstone one he held last month at the GM meetings in Scottsdale – Cashman spoke far more extensively about Yamamoto than he typically does when asked about specific free agents.

“I like our [starting] pitching, certainly when it’s healthy I like our pitching,” Cashman said. “But when there’s an opportunity to add more toward the front-end of it potentially, you have to try and play on that if you can.”

And a cross-section of rival scouts from interested clubs – and there’s no shortage of them as one Pacific Rim scout from a rival AL team said, in his memory, only Shohei Ohtani’s 2017 season saw more of a frenzy among MLB clubs scouting a single player – agree with Cashman: that Yamamoto is front-of-the-rotation material.

“Absolutely filthy,” said one NL scout who spent time in Japan this season. “Has that potential [to front a rotation] for sure.”

Yamamoto, who throws a high 90’s fastball and darting curveball, but whose splitter draws the most raves from scouts, threw a no-hitter in front of Cashman, joined by special adviser Omar Minaya, on Sept. 9.

“It was just a really enjoyable experience. The fact that it was a no-hitter was really spectacular. That’s special whether you see that in high school, college or the pro ranks,” Cashman said. “It made my trip worthwhile to watch the artistry play out. That was really moving. It was cool. But I didn’t learn anything new. I had been educated enough on him over the course of our scouting about knowing the type of talent he was. He just showed it, but that wasn’t surprising.”

The Yankees had in-person eyes on Yamamoto throughout the NPBL season, a group that included pro scouting director Matt Daley, vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring and pro scouts Cory Melvin, Brandon Duckworth and Jay Darnell, the latter three each having a reputation among their peers as being particularly good when it comes to evaluating pitchers.

Cashman said his trip wasn’t so much to cross-check his evaluators but to leave “no stone unturned” in paying “respects” to a player he planned to pursue once posted.

“He knew we were there. It was widely covered,” Cashman said. “I think a lot of teams went over there with their executives and I certainly wasn’t going to make the mistake of not being one of the executives that went over there because I think all of it plays a part. Like any effort, the contract negotiation is an important part of it, but I also think 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 leave it at that.”

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