Well, that escalated quickly. The ink had barely dried on Stephen Strasburg’s record-setting contract with the Nationals when the Yankees went and took the best free agent available off the board and shattered said record. Gerrit Cole is now, pending a physical, going to be in pinstripes for the next nine seasons, for the cool cost of $324 million. This should surprise exactly no one, given that the Yankees have long been enamored with Cole, taking him in the first round of the 2008 draft, only to see him head to UCLA and then get taken first overall by the Pirates in 2011. They tried to trade for him back in 2018, but Houston one-upped them. This time, though, Brian Cashman and company had their eyes on the prize.
Us baseball writers have, in general, said more than a few words about Cole since he moved from Pittsburgh to Houston. Cole was always a talented pitcher, but the relo to a more analytical team that convinced him to drop his sinker turned him into an unquestionable ace. Now, he’s coming off a season where he posted the highest strikeout rate ever recorded by a qualified starting pitcher and didn’t record a loss from May 27 to October 15.
But even if Cole’s deserving of the accolades sent his way over the last couple years, this sort of mammoth contract to a pitcher still might seem crazy at first glance. The good news for Yankees fans is that Cole has the right kind of makeup, both physical and mental, to reward the team that signed him to it. Four plus pitches? A fastball that sits in the upper 90s and can max out over 100? A clean bill of health so far and a clean delivery? His love for analytics and studying up? He’s already shown an ability to easily adjust to change when he moved to Houston and change up his arsenal, and the 29-year-old certainly profiles as the kind of pitcher that can age gracefully and continue to help his team even as his raw stuff declines.
So you can see what the Yankees were thinking when they decided to truly break the bank for a player for the first time in years. Their playing it cool last offseason when Yankees fans were clamoring for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper seems wise given how impressive their offense was in 2019, despite the litany of injuries their lineup suffered throughout the season. While their refusal to go the extra mile for Patrick Corbin might have hurt their bottom line last season, that’s all behind them now.
Sure, Cole alone isn’t going to win the Yankees their first World Series in… gasp… over a decade, but he’s the single biggest move the Yankees could make this offseason increase their odds. They kept him from re-signing with the team that bested them in the ALCS in two of the three last years and away from the Dodgers, who were definitely interested would have been the scariest team in baseball had they signed him. Instead, the Yankees are that scariest team heading into 2020. A rotation of Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka is a top-four that can hang with anybody, and that’s before we even get into Domingo Germán and his domestic violence suspension. New York is still in possession of the best bullpen in baseball and an offense that might be there, too, if they can just stay healthy.
All that being said, this is still a $324 million contract going to a pitcher, and pitchers are notoriously fickle beasts. Nine years is basically an entire lifetime in pitcher years, and there are so, so many things that could go wrong, even if Cole is the perfect kind of pitcher to sign to a deal like this. But even if things turn out less than ideally, there’s simply no team in a better position to deal with that situation than the Yankees.
There are a number of winners in the deal. Cole (obviously), Cole’s agent Scott Boras and Yankees fans. I’d also hazard a guess that Madison Bumgarner is pretty happy with how the pitching market has developed this week. There are also a plethora of losers. The Death Star jokes may have been done to death, but not without just cause. The Yankees lulled us into complacency as of late, convincing us they were just another normal team, not one hellbent on the destruction of any who might stand in their way. Just lean into the tired trope, because the Evil Empire went out and got themselves an arm, and now the Death Star is, in fact, armed and fully operational.
Grade for Yankees, Cole and Boras: Yeehaw
Feeling for Fans of the Other 29 Teams: This