Shohei Ohtani is off the board. Juan Soto has been traded. And Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the next biggest name this MLB offseason, has been busy meeting with teams.
It took a while, but the mysteriously quiet and tight-lipped Philadelphia Phillies have again been linked to the star Japanese starting pitcher. MLB Network's Jon Heyman officially named them as one of seven teams meeting with Yamamoto — and that's about as official as information gets this time of year.
Heyman took to a live Bleacher Report feed on Wednesday and listed the Phillies as one of seven teams known to be meeting with Yamamoto. Along with the Phillies, the "official" list includes the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
How did we get here?
After early offseason rumblings that the Phillies were heavily invested in pursuing Yamamoto, even following Aaron Nola's re-signing, things got quiet. Real quiet.
Initially, it seemed like the Mets and owner Steve Cohen's bottomless pockets were the front runners, with Cohen personally making a trip to Japan to meet with Yamamoto.
Then the Dodgers landed the biggest free agent in baseball history. When it came out that they were still all-in on Yamamoto, it felt like a seismic shift in favor of a West Coast landing for the 25-year-old right-hander. The team that had just inked Ohtani for 10 years rolled out the red carpet for Yamamoto, parading Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman out for their meeting.
And then, as if to stir the pot, Bob Nightengale of USA Today posted that the Yankees remain the favorites to land Yamamoto despite the Dodgers' big play. Heyman doubled down on that Thursday morning on MLB Network but added the Dodgers as co-favorites with the Yankees.
Can the Phillies compete for Yamamoto?
With all the firepower being thrown Yamamoto's way, can the Phillies compete with those teams in their offer to the three-time Eiji Sawamura Award winner (Japan's version of the Cy Young)?
They have money and will spend it if president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and managing partner John Middleton deem a deal worthy of breaking open the piggy bank, per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. But the trail of breadcrumbs they've left this offseason suggests they won't be the highest bidder, as they're being careful around the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, supposedly.
If there's a player left on the market worth spending on, Yamamoto is the one. But that might not be necessary. According to Heyman, Yamamoto hasn't talked numbers with any team. He's looking for the best situation.
"He's not talking money, it's not about the money," Heyman said. "Although we expect he'll go to the highest bidder."
That's usually how these things go. Yamamoto is looking at a possible record-breaking contract length for a pitcher. Heyman projects he'll top Gerrit Cole's nine-year contract, saying he could get 10 or even 12 years, while it has been suggested the final deal might go over $300 million.
The Phillies can't offer beaches and the California climate or the allure of the Big Apple, but have just as much to offer in potential on-field success as the other big-name teams. They don't have an Ohtani, a Betts, or a Freeman, but they have their own stable of superstars who have taken this team to a World Series and NLCS over the last two years.
First and foremost, there's Bryce Harper. We know Yamamoto has heard of him. Harper was already part of the Phillies' initial recruiting pitch, per Zolecki. Then there's Trea Turner, Zack Wheeler, and Aaron Nola. Not too shabby of an established cast if Yamamoto wants to have a legitimate chance at a World Series in his MLB debut season — without living in Ohtani's shadow.
And since the teams and Yamamoto will eventually get around to talking salary, even if the Phillies don't offer the top dollar, they still have one advantage. Since state income tax is a popular topic, thanks to Ohtani's deal, the Phillies can offer a financial advantage with Pennsylvania's flat 3.07 percent tax rate, which is better than any of the other six suitors can offer.
Under Dombrowski's watch, the Phillies have built a foundation in the Japanese scouting market, Zolecki recently reported. Despite the franchise's lack of success in signing Japanese free agents, they have to start somewhere and landing Yamamoto would be a rip-roaring start. However, it doesn't seem the Phillies even believe in themselves in this free agent showdown. Zolecki says, and not for the first time this offseason, that "... the Phillies do not expect to sign him."
So there's the rub.
Is the veteran executive Dombrowski just playing possum, or is this more of a self-fulfilling prophecy situation? As of now, the Phillies are in play, but it remains to be seen how serious they are and if they'll go all-in in their efforts to bring a possibly franchise-altering arm to Philly.
If they can't entice Yamamoto to sign, we may never truly know the answer.