Yankees getting Juan Soto, Yoshinobu Yamamoto restores mystique

Yankees getting Juan Soto, Yoshinobu Yamamoto restores mystique

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — What we should know by 5 p.m. Jan. 4 — the Upnewsdaily for signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto — whether these Yankees are those Yankees. You know the one that used to walk into a room with their history, arrogance and checkbook and walk out with any player they wanted.

By the end of the first week of a new year, the Yankees will either have Yamamoto and Juan Soto or we will just have to accept that they are in a new era B.C. — which stands for both Brian Cashman and Before Collapse.

That would be the crumble of the Yankee sense of magnitude. Of mystique. Of aura. It has been fading for years, perhaps symbolized well when, coincidentally, six years ago when they thought they were the front-runners for Shohei Ohtani and he did not even make them a finalist for his services. The Yankees panicked and pivoted to Giancarlo Stanton and there has been a steady drip toward 82-80 and their worst season in 30 years and the belief now that they are not inevitable when it comes to getting what they want.

That can change in the next few weeks. Because it does not matter that I lack belief in their current construction and that it is the wrong time to invest prospects and money to try to fortify a house built on sand. That is because the Yankees think they are good. They think last season was aberrational, more about bad fortune than bad management and iffy personnel.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto MLB Photos via Getty Images

Still, they want to believe they are still those Yankees, which means landing a couple of stars who will change the narrative in the moment and the fortunes on the field between now and The Canyon of Heroes. And the two they are so clearly eyeing that with are Soto and Yamamoto. They will either land their priorities and restore their sense of themselves and baseball order or they will be explaining why a Jung Hoo Lee/Jordan Montgomery-like consolation prize is good enough.

“We are just trying to put the best roster in place you can and not overreact and make a bad move because of the pressure,” Yankees assistant GM Mike Fishman said. “You still have to kind of make the best decisions for the franchise.”

Of course, in the big picture, Fishman is correct. Overreacting is how the Yankees ended up with Stanton. But without something approaching overreaction in this market, they are not going to land their prizes. Free agency, in particular, at this level is not a rational game. Rationality leads to you explaining why you are signing your third or fourth choice.

The Yankees are far from the only desperate team in this field. That only makes it worse. The price tag for Ohtani’s second free agency is going to exceed $500 million and possibly $600 million. There is going to be a cascade for the teams that are feverishly pursuing him and don’t get him. Just how much more intense — and irrational — is that going to make, say, the Blue Jays’ pursuit of Soto and the Giants’ of Yamamoto?

Hal Steinbrenner AP

At this moment, the Yanks and Padres are at that portion of the game in which both act like the other is the more desperate one.

San Diego will say it will not blink because it knows no other available lefty hitter besides Ohtani — for whom the Yankees are not a finalist — comes close to meeting the Yankees’ craving for a dynamic lefty bat like Soto. The Yankees will claim that the Padres must 1) lower their payroll substantially while 2) adding controllable starters. And good luck finding a team besides the Yankees who can take the contract and help a 2024 rotation by dealing multiple pieces.

The holdup revolves around the Padres saying to trade Soto to the Yankees they must have Michael King and Drew Thorpe, who San Diego has made clear is the pitching prospect they most desire. The Yankees have countered that neither King nor Thorpe will be in a package.

Is the eventual compromise one or the other? Because those Yankees of old would have moved heaven, earth and Thorpe to get Soto while winning whatever financial battle must be won to land Yamamoto, who will have teams including the Yankees and Mets make their case to him in Southern California after these winter meetings end.

The signing of Yamamoto would deliver a 25-year-old potential ace, who allows the Yankees to more comfortably include multiple pitchers to San Diego for Soto.

Not too long ago, they would flex and just win the bidding for a pitcher like this; as they did with another 25-year-old Japanese star, Masahiro Tanaka. But the Yankees might not be those Yankees; even in their own city.

Juan Soto is a Yankees trade target. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

When the Wilpons owned the Mets, the Yankees could anticipate that leadership would financially fold before the finish line. The Mets, for example, quietly entered the bidding for Mike Mussina and Hideki Matsui. But there always came a point where they would cry “uncle!” But now the Mets are owned by Uncle Stevie. And Cohen’s billions and aggression mean that for the Yankees to win this, something about their institution has to still resonate beyond dollars.

After their worst on-field performance in three decades and their insecurities mounting off the field, the Yankees are trying to reclaim their recent past. Their mystique. Their aura. Their inevitability at this time of year that there would be a tussle that in the end played more like scripted theater — with the Yanks getting what they wanted.

But that was those Yankees.

What about these Yankees?

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