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Report: Yoshinobu Yamamoto had dinner at Mets owner Steve Cohen’s home

The bidding for the most sought-after player remaining on the market appears to be heating up.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Team Japan looks on during the fifth inning against Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

With Shohei Ohtani off the market, all eyes have turned to the next-biggest fish in the sea: 25-year-old Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, set to come Stateside after years of dominance with the Orix Buffaloes of the NPB. Given Yamamoto’s age and frontline stuff — as well as his reported desire to play under the brightest lights — it’s no surprise that pretty much every big-market club is in contention for his services, with bidding expected to climb over the $300 million mark.

And after weeks of speculation, that bidding seems to be coming to a head. Yamamoto spent the past few days conducting in-person visits with various suitors, from the Yankees to the Dodgers to the Giants to the Phillies. Over the weekend, though, he took things up a notch: Per a report from Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Yamamoto had dinner at the home of Mets owner Steve Cohen. Other invited guests included Cohen’s wife, Alex, president of baseball operations David Stearns, manager Carlos Mendoza, and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, as New York attempts to put the full-court press on its top target of Stearns’ first offseason in charge.

This wasn’t the first time Yamamoto and Cohen had met, as the billionaire also flew to Japan earlier this winter to introduce himself to the righty. It’s also worth noting that this doesn’t necessarily tip Yamamoto’s hand one way or the other; according to the New York Daily News, he’s also set to meet with the Yankees for a second time before he leaves the tristate area, and other teams are pulling out all the stops.

Still, dinner at the owner’s home is a sure sign that the Mets are in the inner circle of contention for Yamamoto’s services. It’s not hard to see why Cohen, Stearns and Co. would have him on the top of their wish list: Yamamoto has gone 70-29 with a 1.82 ERA and 922 strikeouts over 897 innings during his career in Japan, winning the NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award in each of the last three seasons. With three plus pitchers (a mid-90s fastball, curveball and splitter), Yamamoto looks the part of an ace — and at just 25 years old, he’s substantially younger than other options on the market, making him an enticing option for any team looking for a foundation for their starting rotation.

The Mets are just such a team. Gone are Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco. Stearns inherits a team with very little in the way of starting pitching depth behind Kodai Senga and veteran lefty Jose Quintana; slotting another frontline guy just entering his prime behind Senga would be an ideal way for New York to move forward following their profoundly disappointing 2023 campaign. Yamamoto fills a need both now and into the future, while the Mets offer him the chance to become a star in New York — with Cohen’s considerable resources at the ready to build a contender around him.