Gerrit Cole, bay-bay.
As Tuesday Dec. 10 turned to Wednesday, Dec. 11, the Yankees left no doubt as to just how badly they wanted Gerrit Cole, signing him to a nine-year, $324 million contract, per reports. In a word: Boom.
Spin that deal how you will, but one thing is undisputed: Gerrit Cole wasn’t just Plan A and Option 1 for New York. He was the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, the whole shebang. Cole wasn’t just Option 1 — he was the only option. New York pulled out all the stops — and dollars — to bring him in, including having Andy Pettitte — the former Yankee great who was one of Cole’s favorite pitchers growing up — at the Winter Meetings. Cashman made like a mechanic in an O’Reilly Autoparts with a blank check and a broken Lambourghini in the parking lot.
This is the Yankees’ window. Many said their loss to the Astros in the postseason wasn’t about starting pitching. Well, when you enter an elimination game and your best option is your bullpen, maybe starting pitching is the difference. Had the Yankees won that Game 6 and forced Game 7, they would have had to face — *checks notes* — Gerrit Cole.
How about that? Maybe pitching was the difference, after all. Considering the Yankees’ seeming inability to develop pitchers of their own over the past decade or so, Cole always made sense. While Luis Severino has shown flashes of being a top guy, injuries derailed what could have been a promising 2019, and he had a bad second half in 2018.
But it’s not just about right now for New York. It’s for next year and the next eight after that.
James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are both hitting free agency after the 2020 seasons, but are key pieces to the Yankees’ plans in 2020. Had the Yankees passed on Cole — or were willingly outbid — it left Severino and a cast of thousands to fill out the rotation after this coming season.
While New York has talented arms who could slot into the starting roles for the team (led by top prospect Deivi Garcia), Cole was the answer to the ace question that’s been asked since CC Sabathia was on the decline.
Signing Cole was going to take some strong will and intestinal fortitude for the Yankees, who have been lighter spenders on the free-agent market over the past few seasons. Owner Hal Steinbrenner’s mandate to get under the luxury tax threshold never led to the big-spending ways of his father like some predicted, until now. That’s a good sign for the Yankees — and baseball as a whole — especially after being outbid for Patrick Corbin after the 2019 season and effectively being out on both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado before their planes touched the ground in New York (or New Jersey).
Signing Cole had a similar feel to bringing in Sabathia; while this offseason has yet to unfold in its entirety, that 2009 season signified something of a “come and get us” moment in the Yankees’ quest for another ring. New York capped off that winter by signing A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, flexing financial capabilities we’ve not seen since since they won that offseason and subsequent World Series. There’s still work to be done to achieve that “fully operational Death Star” standard that Cashman expects.
A fallback plan of Madison Bumgarner would have been acceptable at best, considering it came down to just money and not a choice of prospects that left it in the hands of another franchise. Stephen Strasburg was off the board by the time Cole signed. The Yankees put their eggs in the Cole basket. It worked.
Don’t scoff at the money or the years. The contract is going to pay Cole through his age 37 season (he’ll be 38 when it’s up), and while that number can be scary for fans, in the immediate, Cole, 29, is in the prime of his pitching career and was worth 6.9 bWAR last year. He finished second in the AL Cy Young voting behind former teammate Justin Verlander after finishing fifth the season prior. And he’s getting better. The prospect of signing Cole was like shooting fish in a barrel.
Signing him is the end of heartache for New York and pens a fitting final chapter to the odyssey of New York chasing him. It started when Cole chose UCLA over signing with the Yankees. Then the Yankees wouldn’t ante up to trade for him on a few occasions before Pittsburgh shipped him to Houston.
There were no more excuses. This was the last shot for the Yankees, and they made it happen. Kudos to Cashman and Steinbrenner for not only making that known with their words, but sparing no expense and not being afraid to go with a nearly decade-long deal.
Cole always made sense for New York, so it’s only fitting that the prophecy — and destiny — came true.