2008 was a dark time in Yankee land. For the first time since the strike in 1994, the team missed the playoffs. And to make it worse, we all had to say goodbye to the old stadium. It was a time of uncertainty, which was something Yankee fans of my generation had never had to deal with. But in that off season, NinjaCash struck and took care of all of us. By signing CC Sabathia to a record-setting deal, Brian Cashman ushered in a new era for the Yankees. Although things are not as dire as they were 11 years ago, this off-season has a similar vibe with the pursuit of Gerrit Cole. Let’s go through the lead-up to the Yankees signing Sabathia and see how similar it is to how the Yankees are going after Cole. It looks like NinjaCash is following the same road map.
The Prior Off-season
In 2007, there was another premier starter on the market in Johan Santana. Long a thorn in the Yankees side, Santana ended up signing a record setting 6 year, $137.5 million contract with the Mets. The Yankees feigned interest, but never really went after Santana, knowing Sabathia was available the following year.
Last offseason, the Yankees made passive efforts towards free agents Patrick Corbin, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper. Corbin and Machado visited Yankee Stadium and met with top team officials. In the end, they only discussed general contract terms and did not offer any an official contract.
The Season Of
Sabathia had a season for the ages in 2008. Following a midseason trade to Milwaukee, he made 17 starts and was dominant. He pitched 130 innings, 7 complete games, and had an ERA+ of 255. That means he was 2.5x better than the average MLB pitcher. Who can forget him taking the ball on short rest to will the Brewers to the postseason?
Cole, likewise, had an incredible season. In 33 starts and 212 innings, he had a 39% K rate which is absurd for a starter. He also had a SIERA (better version of ERA) of 2.64. He was also a monster in the playoffs, throwing over 7 innings per start with a 1.72 ERA. Suffice to say, both guys were at the top of their games going into free agency.
The Initial Offering
The Yankees famously offered CC a contract of 6 years, $140 million on the first day of free agency. That was the largest contract offer ever to a free agent pitcher – breaking Santana’s deal from the prior off-season.
According to Bob Klapish of the New York Times, the Yankees have offered Cole a 7 year, $245 million contract. That number would break the record for most total money (David Price’s $217 million deal) and largest AAV (Zach Greinke’s $34.4 million). The parallel is clear – the Yankees want a guy and their first offering sets a record. It sends a message of “hey, we want you and know it’s gonna take more than anything done before.”
That type of offer shows Cole AND other teams the Yankees are not messing around. On his podcast R2C2, CC said after the Yankees offer became public knowledge, it scared other teams away. In fact, only the Angels and Brewers even offered CC a contract knowing they couldn’t top the Yankees offer. In the Cole situation, the Angels and Dodgers are the rumored other teams. When the Yankees roll up with their checkbook out, other teams know to stay away.
Remember how last offseason the Yankees did not go and meet with the top players? Well, Boone, Cashman, new pitching coach Matt Blake, Assistant GM Michael Fishman, and Andy Pettitte all flew out to meet with Cole in California last week. Going out to meet with a guy shows him you are serious, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Cole is the Yankees top priority.
According to most reports, that meeting went exceptionally well. Cashman, Boone, and Pettitte talked up playing for the Yankees and what the New York experience is like. Notably, Pettitte was the “star” of that meeting which is awesome. Blake and Fishman were both there to talk about the nerdy side of things because Cole specifically wants an organization which is analytically driven. We wrote all about Blake’s analytic use, and Fishman is the guy who developed the Yankees analytics department.
For CC, Cashman flew from Las Vegas to CC’s home in California during the Winter Meetings. During that meeting, Cashman sold CC on coming to New York and pitching for the Yankees. In the latest R2C2 episode, CC said that meeting was when he decided to sign. Cashman’s confidence in CC loving New York led to the famous opt-out after 3 years which sealed the deal. That meeting was also when Cashman added on a 7th year to the contract.
What to Expect
If we’re following that roadmap, expect Cashman to circle back with Cole’s agent (Scott Boras) and Cole during the Winter Meetings this week. The meetings are in San Diego, which is right in Cole’s backyard.
To sign CC, it took an extra year on the contract offer and an opt-out. I expect the same will happen with Cole. The final offer will likely look something like 8 years, $280 million with an opt-out after 3 years, and perhaps multiple opt-outs.
We have seen the parallels between the chase for CC and pursuing Cole right now. Staying home the prior offseason, going out to meet with the free agent, and a record-setting offer from the jump. CC signed his contract on December 10th, 2008. Cole may choose to wait until after the holidays to sign, but nothing would make Yankee Universe happier than Cole following the exact same pattern.