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Yoshinobu Yamamoto set for Yankee Stadium debut after picking Dodgers in free agency

Aaron Boone and Matt Blake couldn’t help but notice the weather as the Yankees prepared to meet with Yoshinobu Yamamoto outside of Los Angeles on Dec. 11.

As the two enjoyed a rooftop bar at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, the sun shined over their view of the picturesque Los Angeles Country Club. The conditions, they felt, were not going to help them land the coveted Japanese free agent.

“It was gorgeous, 72 and sunny,” Blake told the Daily News. “Boonie and I were like, ‘If he stays out here any longer, this is going to be a problem.’ It was in jest, but at the same time, somewhat real. ‘Why wouldn’t you want to live out here? This is good living.’

“We were joking about it, but at the same time, not joking.”

The Yankees hosted Yamamoto in New York a week later. Blake remembers rain and a temperature in the 40s.

“It was a classic early winter day in New York City,” the pitching coach said.

While the elements may not have worked in the Yankees’ favor, bigger reasons factored into Yamamoto’s decision to sign with the Dodgers. For one, they offered more money, signing the right-hander to a 12-year, $325 million deal.

Without playing in an MLB game, Yamamoto inked the largest contract ever given to a pitcher. He topped Gerrit Cole’s nine-year, $324 million pact, though a voidable opt-out clause could fetch the reigning Cy Young winner a 10th year and an additional $36 million this offseason.

The Yankees offered Yamamoto 10 years and $300 million — a higher average annual salary — but that couldn’t seal the deal.

“I just think sooner or later in these things, you’ve got to go pencils down,” Hal Steinbrenner said in the spring while downplaying the idea that the Yankees didn’t want to pay Yamamoto more than Cole. “I probably went higher than some of our baseball people would have gone, but I felt it was important to the fanbase and to our chances this year to really make a run and try to get him. I just felt, right or wrong, that the bidding was going to continue and $300 million was a very good offer, and I think a lot of our fans agreed with that.

“For a player that’s never played in the major leagues before, that’s a lot of money. And sooner or later, you have to have a limit.”

Some wondered if the Dodgers’ signing of Shohei Ohtani, another Japanese superstar, influenced Yamamoto’s decision. However, he previously said he “probably would have ended up in LA” if Ohtani signed elsewhere.

Now Yamamoto and the Dodgers are heading to the Bronx, where the 25-year-old will pitch against the Yankees for the first time in a Friday night battle between first-place teams.

His first stateside season has been a success so far. While Yamamoto’s initial start, thrown in South Korea, was a one-inning catastrophe, he owns a 3.32 ERA over 12 games and 65 innings. With a 28.4 K%, 5.2 BB% and a 121 ERA+, he’s been more than serviceable, if inconsistent, for the Dodgers’ top-10 rotation.

“It seems like he’s been pitching well lately,” Blake said. “Obviously had the tough start in Korea, but other than that, it seems like he’s kind of been in a good rhythm, throwing a lot of strikes, kind of evolving as the league adjusts to him.”

Blake added that he never felt like the Yankees were out of the running for Yamamoto.

Boone agreed with that sentiment.

“There was never a point where I thought we were gonna get him,” the manager said. “There was never a point where I didn’t think we were. I felt like we were very much in the mix and we had really good dialogue. I really liked him. He seemed very comfortable in his skin. Very easygoing, easy way about him. Engaging. I think he enjoyed it. I think he enjoyed spending time with us, as we did with him. And then when he came back out and met us here in New York, that second time, I didn’t feel like, ‘Yes, he’s signing with us’ or ‘No, he’s not signing with us.’

“It was a little bit of an unknown, but I felt like we were very much in the mix.”

As far as the compliments go, Blake said much of the same.

The coach described Yamamoto as a “student of the game” and said he understood the significance of baseball’s biggest brands — the Mets were also involved — pursuing him.

Yamamoto came off as curious, asking questions about the league, how he would have to adjust, and how the Yankees could help him.

The Yankees were just as inquisitive. They wanted to know what Yamamoto thought about the game and himself, as well as what he was willing to do from an adjustment standpoint. Blake concluded that this is a pitcher who is “serious about his craft.”

Blake said the Yankees’ pitch largely centered on the resources at their disposal and ways they could accommodate the international free agent as he settled into a new country. The team also showed a video featuring Hideki Matsui, and Boone presented Yamamoto with a No. 18 Yankees jersey.

It’s customary for aces to wear that number in Japan, and the Yankees intentionally kept it out of circulation last season.

Those personal touches ultimately weren’t enough to lure Yamamoto, though.

Once he settled on the Dodgers, the Yankees pivoted to Marcus Stroman. The righty has been excellent this season, recording a 2.73 ERA prior to Thursday’s start against the Twins.

Blake also noted that Yamamoto’s decision indirectly impacted Luis Gil, who has a 1.82 ERA after winning the fifth rotation slot that Cole’s elbow inflammation vacated.

“So far, it seems to be,” Blake said when asked if things have worked out for all parties. “I think [Yamamoto] is in a good spot in LA, and [not signing him] obviously gave Luis Gil a chance to be up here, so you feel good about that.”


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