Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

When the Yankees used Old Timers Day to celebrate the 1998 championship team this past weekend, former team captain and star shortstop Derek Jeter got the biggest ovation of them all.

However, longtime Jeter nemesis and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman did not appear to be in attendance. This was shocking considering the 1998 season was his first as GM. A position he’s held ever since.

Rather, the veteran executive and members of his front office team were in Japan. And for what? To watch Japanese righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto toss his second career no-hitter.

A little background. Yamamoto pitches for the Orix Buffaloes in Nippon Professional Baseball’s (NPB) Pacific League. If the name of the team sounds familiar, Red Sox rookie Masataka Yoshida starred there before the move to Beantown. Future Hall of Famer and former Yankee Ichiro Suzuki is also a former Orix legend.

And at age 25, Yamamoto already has two no-hitters and a 1.74 ERA in seven years. He’s averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) compared to just two walks per nine (BB/9). A scout spoke to Joel Sherman of the Post and laid out an impressive arsenal. Yamamoto throws five pitches, including a mid-to-high 90s fastball that he pairs with a nasty splitter and curve. Fangraphs adds that he also has a solid cutter.

Kind of sounds like a former Japanese Yankee, right? One who was good for maybe one pure shoutout a year and also was a master of the splitter? Not to mention, more than a few fans miss him and wish he’d come back to MLB?

Now, does this all mean the Yankees are absolutely landing Yamamoto in the offseason and slotting him right behind Gerrit Cole? Absolutely not. Orix still needs to post him in the offseason. That means multiple teams, including the Yankees, paying $20 million just to speak with Yamamoto.

His MLB contract is another story. The Yankees signed then-25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka for $155 million over seven years in 2014. However, unlike Yamamoto, Tanaka didn’t turn pro and immediately post consistent sub-3 and later sub-2 ERAs. Now add two no-hitters and two Pacific League MVP trophies to Tanaka’s one.

Yamamoto could easily command north of $200 million from the Yankees and plenty of other interested parties.

However, Cashman had better get to work if his interest in Yamamoto is serious. The Yankees’ rotation is mostly booked headed into 2024. Gerrit Cole is the unquestioned ace. A $162 million investment means Carlos Rodon will get a chance to bounce back. Clarke Schmidt has finally learned how to pitch and Nestor Cortes will hopefully be healthy.

That leaves one spot open, and the Yankees have plenty of in-house options from Randy Vasquez to Chase Hampton to overnight farm system superstar Drew Thorpe. New York could also bite the bullet and use a six-man rotation, but I digress. The point is the Yankees have to make tough decisions if they’re serious about Yamamoto. And those decisions may incur the wrath of dreaded #YankeesTwitter.

But Yamamoto is probably the best young arm on the international market. Furthermore, he’s less of a health risk than 21-year-old Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Yankees may very well decide that selling high on Schmidt or potentially trading Cortes or Vasquez is worth it if it means landing Yamamoto.

And considering Cashman skipped out on celebrating his most successful team to watch Yamamoto? Perhaps the Yankees are already planning ahead. Stay tuned.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.