The first sign something monumental was on the horizon was last week’s news that Yankees ownership had given general manager Brian Cashman the permission to offer what was required to sign Gerrit Cole.
History tells us when the Yankees decide they want someone, when they match their desire with their financial girth, it’s very rare anyone can outbid them.
So we learned again Tuesday night.
The Yankees landed the top pitcher on the free agent market, a potential postseason game changer, by offering Cole a record nine-year, $324 million contract, the richest deal ever given a pitcher.
“We wouldn’t be having the dialogues we’re having if we didn’t believe in the player and his ability to compete at the highest level in Major League Baseball,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said before the signing.
To this point, the only players making more money than Cole are Mike Trout ($426.5 million), Bryce Harper ($330 million) and Giancarlo Stanton ($325 million).
With the stroke of a pen, the Yankees now have their No. 1 starter. More importantly, the Astros do not. And that might clear the most bothersome hurdle to a American League championship.
Despite the record number – and average value of $36 million – the Yankees agreed to give Cole an opt-out after five years. It also comes with a full no-trade clause. And there is no deferred money.
Just as predicted, Stephen Strasburg’s hold on the richest deal ever offered a pitcher lasted less than two days. His seven-year, $245 million deal has just been dwarfed.
It goes without saying this is a major commitment – and gamble – for the Yankees. But the Yankees needed to take it. It had become clear over the last few years what the Yankees lacked was an elite starter, someone they could match against the game’s best on its biggest stages.
Now they have him. And age should not be a problem. Cole is only 29 and former teammates Justin Verlander, who beat him out for AL Cy Young this season, and Zach Greinke, both pitched admirably at 36 this season.
In just Cole and Stanton, the Yankees will invest nearly $70 million a year for the next few seasons. And what will their obligation be when they finally getting around to paying young stars Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres, the ballast of their powerful lineup?
Of course, the Yankees are one of the few teams in the Majors that can even conceive of such things. Their revenue stream from media rights, ticket sales and merchandise is substantial enough every year to soothe the bottom line.
And they also understand some of the money they’ll need to carry Cole will be freed once other starters Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ become free agents after the 2020 season.
Cole is coming off a 20-5 season for the Astros. He set a team record by winning his last 16 regular-season decisions – he had only one loss after May 22, in Game 1 of the World Series against the Nationals. His 2.50 ERA led the AL and he struck out 326 hitters in just over 212 innings.
What’s more, Cole is a life-long Yankees fan, one who went to many games at Yankee Stadium when he was growing up. He’s mentioned many times how much he admired both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
In an effort to capitalize on that, the Yankees traveled to Cole’s home in California with a large contingent including manager Aaron Boone and former pitcher Andy Pettitte. It was there the Yankees regaled Cole and his wife, Amy, with stories about what it would be like to pitch in pinstripes.
And it obviously worked. In the end, the Yankees reportedly beat out both the Dodgers and Angels. Team owner Hal Steinbrenner stepped in discussions with Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, upping the offer from eight to nine years. Cole will cut his hair, shave his beard. He’s a Yankee.
“I think we all understand we have a special team that’s hopefully in the middle of a chance to do some great things,” Boone said from the MLB’s winter meetings in San Diego. “Any time you’re talking about a player the caliber of Gerrit Cole, and knowing what he can potentially mean to our club, it’s no surprise that we are as invested as we are in pursuing him.”
Ironically, the Yankees were first in on Cole all the way back to 2008 when they made him the 28th pick in the first round of the amateur draft. Cole decided to attend UCLA and three years later, the Pirates selected him first overall.
“I think we have the best ownership in baseball,” Cashman said. “I think we have the best fans in baseball. I would take our team and our team chemistry and line it up against anybody in the game. We’re just trying to add people that we think would fit not just from a performance side, but also from a teammate side. We wouldn’t be talking to Gerrit Cole if we didn’t feel that way.”