The verdict seems to be out on whether Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has an impulse to pursue White Sox ace Jose Quintana at this summer’s trade deadline. But if New York is still in the market for a top-end starter, perhaps they could seek another ex-draft pick from the National League.
In 2008, the Yankees drafted righty Gerrit Cole as the 28th overall pick in the June Amateur Draft, but when the 17-year-old elected to play at UCLA–where he stayed for three years–he was placed back into the draft rotation. The Pirates later selected him first overall in 2011.
So, if the Yankees are playoff contenders come July (which, at least seems more than likely here in early May), should Cole’s name be on Cashman’s wishlist? John Harper of the NY Daily News believes so.
It’s too early for either team to seriously consider such a move just yet. The Yankees need to continue mashing, establishing themselves as serious contenders to the point where it would be worth taking a big chunk out of the farm system for the right pitcher.
And the Pirates have to be far enough out of contention in another month or two to be convinced they do need a rebuild.
But sooner or later they’re almost certainly trading Cole, an elite power pitcher who will be a free agent after the 2019 season, because they won’t be able to afford to sign him. So the question is when.
While Cole, now 26, hasn’t posted All-Star numbers in all five of his major league seasons, he has been the headliner to Pittsburgh’s underwhelming pitching staff this decade. But with the Pirates currently sitting in the NL Central basement with a record of 12-16, Cole is a trade target and could be moved before he becomes eligible for free agency in 2020. It’s also worth noting that Cole’s role as the ace in the coming years isn’t concrete. Rookie Tyler Glasnow and sophomore Jameson Taillon are Pittsburgh’s highly touted arms who may lead a future rebuild of the franchise.
But much like the conversation revolving around Quintana’s candidacy, questions remain on which prospects the Yankees would yield for a player like Cole. Before Chicago moved southpaw Chris Sale to the Red Sox for a bevy of farmhands, New York’s stance on the Sale sweepstakes was clear: no top prospects are worth sacrificing for an ace. While Cashman wasn’t thrilled that a division rival won the contest, mortgaging the future wasn’t an option. But Chicago’s steep prices don’t reflect on Pittsburgh’s style of business, so out of the Yankees’ esteemed youngsters, who’d be mentioned in a trade package?
In Harper’s analysis, a baseball executive spoke of outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield, stating, “Frazier hasn’t hit much in Triple-A but he’s still young with a high ceiling, and Sheffield projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter. It might take another solid prospect and a fringe guy too, because Cole would be a hot commodity if he is available, and Pittsburgh would want quantity as well as quality. But the Yankees have the depth to outbid other teams.”
Since the Yankees acquired both players from the Indians for Andrew Miller last summer, Frazier, 22, has been viewed as a fan favorite. Despite the trivial controversy around his once-long red locks and lack of maturity, Frazier offers strength and power, which would be appealing to any club. To be fair, a player like Frazier is worth keeping around, but where would he play in the Bronx? In just 26 games, it seems like Aaron Judge will be the every-day right fielder for a long time, and with Jacoby Ellsbury’s unfriendly contract, he’ll remain in center. Even if New York finds a new home for Brett Gardner, there are other outfield prospects who could fill major league shoes, such as Blake Rutherford and Dustin Fowler. But, of course, the Yankees plan to spend a wad of cash two winters from now, when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are expected to be free agents.
Pushing for Cole would be a solid option for New York, as he has shown ace-esque stuff (19-game winner in 2015). It’ll depend on if the Yankees believe they’re one player away from being legitimate contenders, which, contrary to this winter’s assumptions, is possible.