Home News Bill Madden: Yankees’ Plan B after losing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto is...

Bill Madden: Yankees’ Plan B after losing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto is working out just fine



For the better part of three months last winter Hal Steinbrenner had his Yankee minions feverishly chasing after 25-year-old Japanese pitching prodigy Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who he’d deemed (along with the trade for Juan Soto) as a centerpiece of the team’s offseason game plan for returning to World Series contenders.

Though he had never thrown a single pitch in the big leagues, Yamamoto had been almost universally acclaimed as a bona fide No. 1 starting pitcher and as such, given his age, would be commanding a contract of at least 10 years and $300 million. Steinbrenner was good with that because he knew if the Yankees were going to sufficiently rebound from last year’s 82-80 out-of-the-money finish they were going to have to acquire another top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Gerrit Cole.

And despite the equally aggressive competition from Steve Cohen, the Yankee high command seemed confident of landing Yamamoto — right up until two days after Christmas when he shocked them by signing with the Dodgers (who had just doled out $700 million to Shohei Ohtani) for 12 year and $325 million. Forced to go to Plan B, the Yankees ignored the media pleas to sign one of the Scott Boras clients — Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery — and instead signed Marcus Stroman, a solid No. 3 and sometimes No, 2 starter, for two years, $37 million.

And then, midway through spring training, Cole was discovered to be suffering from nerve irritation in his elbow and was later shut down indefinitely. The Yankees were suddenly thrust into “now what?” mode with the rotation, minus a No.1 altogether. After initial deliberations about who to replace Cole among rookies Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, Cody Poteet, or Luis Gil, the Yankee high command settled on Gil after he struck out eight Phillies on March 11 and they received feedback from Phillies manager Rob Thomson and hitting coach Kevin Long that Gil’s stuff had been the best they’d seen of any pitcher all spring.

So now, here we are, three months into the season and guess who is not only the Yankees’ No. 1 starter, but the No. 1 starter in the entire American League?: The previously unsung Luis Gil, aka “The Gil-a-monster” who Brian Cashman stole from the Twins back in March 2018 for a marginal No. 5 outfielder, Jake Cave. The reason for the deal was Cashman had to clear a space on his 40-man roster and Cave, who despite three years in Triple-A had still not made it to the Bronx, had become “expendable.” Did Cashman know what he was getting in Gil, who six years and one Tommy John surgery later, is 8-1, leading the American League in ERA (1.82) and fewest hits per nine innings (3.89), with the fifth lowest WHIP (0.923) and sixth best strikeouts per nine innings (11.03)? Of course not. No one could. But he did know he was getting a kid with a big power fastball and a fluid, loose delivery who his Yankee pitching people said they could work with.

At the start of the season, the only thing about Gil that concerned the Yankees was being able to throw strikes consistently. But that was remedied after three starts by Yankee pitching coach Matt Blake with a minor adjustment of squaring his shoulders better to the plate. After walking 19 batters in his first five starts, Gil has walked just 15 in his last seven starts.

Meanwhile, I’m sure Steinbrenner has been playing this game in his head. Who would you rather have?

Pitcher A: 6-2, 3.00 ERA, 83 Ks, 61 hits in 72 innings

Pitcher B: 5-2, 3.04 ERA, 57 Ks, 61 hits in 74 innings

Pitcher C:  8-1, 1.82 ERA, 85 Ks, 30 hits in 69.1 innings

Pitcher A is Yamamoto to whom the Dodgers are paying an AAV of $27 million and who did his best to show Steinbrenner he would have been worth it by pitching seven scoreless innings against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium Friday night. Pitcher B is Stroman, to whom the Yankees are paying $18 million this year and next, while Pitcher C is Gil, making the major league minimum of $750,000. Somehow, if I’m Steinbrenner I’m feeling pretty good about how it’s all turned out — not paying over $300 million for a No. 1 starting pitcher but instead paying a mere $750,000 while also getting just as good a year as Yamamoto from Stroman.

In trying to fathom how lucky he was to have saved $300 million on Yamamoto, at the same time finding gold in Gil, I would refer Hal to Joaquin Andujar, the idiosyncratic No. 1 starter for Whitey Herzog’s championship Cardinal teams in the ‘80s, who famously explained: “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is ‘you never know’.”

IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD

It was bad enough commissioner Rob Manfred cajoled the owners into rushing the approval of Oakland owner John Fisher’s ill-conceived move of the A’s from the sixth-largest TV market to the 42nd-largest market in Las Vegas and into a proposed bandbox (33,000 seat) of a stadium that will assure Fisher of sizeable revenue sharing checks forever. Now, in the epitome of chutzpah, Fisher is seeking to play up to eight of the A’s Las Vegas home games (10%) at neutral sites, purportedly to “build the franchise’s brand to attract players and sponsors.” The A’s are already going to be playing home games in a minor league ballpark in Sacramento from 2025-27 while awaiting for construction to conclude on the park in Las Vegas. This entire Fisher Las Vegas deal was allowed by Manfred to be rushed through after he ran out of patience with the Oakland bureaucrats building a new stadium there. It’s time for Manfred and the other owners to tell Fisher: “Enough! Either go back to Oakland and work on a deal there or sell the team to somebody who will.” The Las Vegas A’s are a laughingstock and an embarrassment to baseball. So too is John Fisher.

When MLB’s Department of Investigations announced five separate suspensions last week to players for sports betting, including a lifetime ban on Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano for betting over $150,000 on baseball, just about everyone I know was like Claude Rains’ Captain Renault in “Casablanca” in that they were ”shocked, absolutely shocked there was gambling going on in baseball.” All you need to do is look around all the stadiums in baseball where the advertising signs for DraftKings, Fan Duel, Fanatics and other gambling sites are everywhere and the team broadcasters are forced to read gambling site promos 2-3 times a game, encouraging fans to bet on baseball. This in contrast to 20 years ago when the most prominent sign in the old Yankee Stadium was the giant NO BETTING sign in center field. It’s all the end product of the May 14, 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal statute that had restricted legal betting to primarily Nevada for 26 years. MLB excuses its partnership with these betting companies (at the same time refusing to pardon Pete Rose) by noting that all bets placed with these sites are reportable. But the underground betting market with unlicensed bookmakers in the U.S. continues to thrive as MLB, which once had No Betting signs in all its ballparks, now has signs encouraging fans and players alike to patronize gambling sites.

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