MLB rumors: Yankees saved a number for Yamamoto, but will need a far larger one to sign him

The New York Yankees kept Yoshinobu Yamamoto's jersey number free and are one of several clearly motivated suitors that would love to sign him.

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan
World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan / Eric Espada/GettyImages
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With Shohei Ohtani off the market, the MLB hot stove has cooled off considerably, awaiting the signings of Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, trades involving players like Dylan Cease, and of course, Yoshinobu Yamamoto's international free agency.

Yamamoto was posted by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball League and has until early January to sign a contract with a Major League Baseball team. Thus far, Yamamoto has met with several teams and the general feeling is that the Yankees and Mets have been front-runners for most of the process.

However, don't discount the connection in Los Angeles, with Ohtani already playing lead recruit for the Dodgers, set to head to a Los Angeles Rams Thursday Night Football game with Yamamoto.

The Phillies have submitted an offer, and expect the Mets, Giants, and Red Sox to be possible players as well.

Teams have gone to great lengths to try to show Yamamoto he should sign with their respective organization. Mets owner Steve Cohen flew out to Japan to have dinner with Yamamoto. The Yankees reportedly had a scout at every one of his games in Japan this year according to Brendan Kuty of The Athletic.

But don't necessarily overlook one thing the Yankees have been holding for him for a year now: His jersey number.

Yankees have reserved No. 18 for Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Kuty also points out that Yamamoto's number, No. 18, was left unworn all last year. Holding for anyone in particular?

Notably, Aaron Boone gave Yamamoto a Yankees No. 18 jersey when they met and said, "It's his if he wants to keep it."

The Yankees, having retired 23 numbers in total after adding Paul O'Neill's 21 to the mix last year, are a bit thin on jersey options, so keeping a number unworn for an entire year is actually a bit of a feat. Andrew Benintendi wore the number in 2022, and before 2023 it hadn't gone unworn since 1940 according to YankeesNumbers.com.

No. 18 might say a little, but at the end of the day the number that speaks the loudest will be one with many more zeroes after it. Yamamoto is expected to command a contract of $250 million or more, and the Yankees will have to fork over a massive financial commitment to lure him away from other teams.

Given his friendship with Ohtani and the fact that Ohtani's own huge deal included a substantial amount of deferred salary to give the Dodgers money to work with to build around him, the Dodgers feel like the most likely threat to the Bronx Bombers' dreams at present.

It sure is easy to see No. 18 on Yamamoto in pinstripes though.

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