Gerritt Cole will be a free agent in no more than one week. Yes, I understand it has only been one week since his current team knocked us out, but he is at the forefront of many Yankee fans’ minds as we approach the dark, cold winter.
So how much money should the Yankees throw at Cole this offseason? Fellow Bronx Pinstripes writer Nick Kirby profoundly claimed “all of it.” To be fair, that assessment is not completely ill-advised. But let’s take a more realistic look at it, shall we?
First, a bit of background. Cole was born in Newport Beach, California, roughly an hour and a half southeast of Los Angeles. The Yankees actually drafted Cole out of high school with the 28th overall selection in 2008, but he spurned them to attend UCLA. He later got drafted by the Pirates first overall three years later and received an $8 million signing bonus, a record at the time.
Cole’s father grew up in Syracuse, New York. So while Gerrit may be Californian, he grew up a Yankees fan (who can blame him?). Many are quick to jump the gun and say he ends up with the Angels – it’s close to where he grew up, they desperately need pitching, they have the money, and, of course, they have the one and only Michael Nelson Trout. The same, however, could have been said for CC Sabathia eleven years ago.
Of course, no two free agency situations are alike – I would be shocked if it didn’t come down to the money. Cole picked a great year to have one of the greatest pitching stretches in history. It’s hard to believe he began the 2019 season 1-4 with a 4.71 ERA. Boy did he turn it around sharply. A Game 1 loss in the World Series snapped a streak of him winning 19 straight decisions, and the Astros had won 25 straight games that he started. Another reason to think it will come down to the highest bidder? His agent is none other than Scott Boras.
Spotrac has projected Cole’s market value contract to be a 6-year, $197,912,814 million pact. That’s an AAV of $32,985,469. I can tell you that he will for sure surpass that total. Let’s put it into perspective: the largest free-agent contract ever given to a pitcher belongs to David Price (7 years, $217 million). Boras and Cole already have an argument that would be tough to refute that would shatter that figure. Cole’s current teammate Zack Greinke holds the title of having the highest AAV of any starter at $34.4 million. Will Cole beat that? He certainly could.
Cole had the highest fWAR among all pitchers at 7.4 this past year. WAR is calculated differently for pitchers and position players and can’t be well compared. However, assuming it was comparable, Cole would have ranked sixth in all of baseball, behind only Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, and Marcus Semien. Let’s say Cole averages a WAR of 5 over a seven-year deal. Based on the chart below (and assuming it was 2017), Cole would be in for a $367.5 million payday. That’s probably excessive.
My rant begins…
It is abundantly clear that Brian Cashman and his comrades are adept at developing and identifying undervalued position players. Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin…the list goes on. However, the same cannot be said for pitchers. The Yankees’ ability to develop position players is akin to the Astros’ ability to develop pitchers. Therefore, I feel like the team needs to make a bold move in the starting pitching department.
When was the last time the Yankees acquired an established, bonafide number one pitcher? James Paxton? He was the ace of the Mariners by default; his stats would suggest he’s more of a number two or number three. Does he have the potential to be an ace? Sure. But he’s yet to show that consistency throughout his career. How about Masahiro Tanaka? He was an established ace in Japan, but not in the MLB. You really couldn’t be sure his stuff would translate. The last established ace I can think of is CC Sabathia. And look how that turned out. Sure, CC struggled from 2013-2015, the latter part of his contract, but I’m certain Yankee fans are okay with that given what he gave the team from 2009-2012, which includes a championship. CC turned 29 during his first year in the Bronx; Cole will turn 30 at the end of the 2020 season.
A look back
When Cashman stated that the Yankees did not pass on the handful of impact starters that have been available over the past few years, he wasn’t wrong – the team was engaged. But they aren’t as bold as they used to be, and that’s the issue.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20. Many are upset with not signing Corbin last offseason but weren’t willing to give him the sum he received from Washington at the time of the signing. Maybe it was just fans being upset about missing out on a potential target. Cole, however, is a better pitcher than Corbin, and not only would you be signing perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, but you would also be poaching him away from your biggest enemy. That’s double the impact. No one would have cared about what the Diamondbacks were losing in Corbin, but we would if it was a big piece being taken away from the Astros.
What about Justin Verlander? Many yell at the Yankees’ front office for not acquiring him. However, I disagree with that. First of all, the Astros might have been the only team who could have transformed him as they did – just look at what they did with Charlie Morton. There’s no guarantee it would have played out the same in New York. Secondly, Verlander was 34 years old when he was traded and he was owed $56 million over the last two-and-a-half years of his deal. He had a 3.82 ERA at the time of the trade. Signs pointed to a potential decline. Not many would have predicted what has transpired with him in Houston.
At the same time, I think signing Cole is the bold move the Yankees need to make. I understand the game plan for Cashman and company, but I cannot get on board with all of it. Here’s a quote from the Yankees’ GM at the end-of-season news conference on Thursday:
“We failed in our final game, but it wasn’t a failed season….Most teams would love to be in the position we put ourselves in and the roster we have.”
That is not the Yankee way. At what point did not winning the World Series become okay? Additionally, the latter part of that quote sounds like something the Braves or the Twins would say. Not the big, bad New York Yankees.
Hal Steinbrenner has repeatedly said that he doesn’t feel like they need an exorbitant payroll to win it all. I agree. But a lot of the Yankees’ current payroll is tied up in a few players from past mistakes (I’m looking at you Jacoby Ellsbury).
This team has a roster with many good young players. But they’re not that young. Aaron Judge will be 28 in April. Luis Severino will be 26 in February. Gary Sanchez turns 27 in a little over a month. I’ll remind you that Gleyber Torres is only 22 (he turns 23 in December), but many others are entering or already in their primes. The time to win is now, and we can’t be dainty and finicky. Sometimes you just have to go for the dagger.
Gerrit Cole is a guy who you can bet on giving you at least six innings every time he steps on the mound. And I’m talking about the regular season and postseason. The Yankees don’t have anyone like that right now, at least from a consistency standpoint. Severino could be, but he hasn’t shown the ability to do some come October.
How much has the media talked about the Cole/Verlander duo at the top of Houston’s rotation? Even just looking at the ALCS, everyone was talking about how the Yankees had to beat Cole or Verlander at least once. That’s what having an established, bonafide ace does. It invokes a sense of confidence in the team that has the ace and one of fear in the opposing team. Again, there’s no one the Yankees have that does the same.
Cole can be a top-flight pitcher for the next three or four years, exactly the championship window the Yankees are looking at right now. Cole will likely go for a deal at least seven years in length and possibly $35 million a year. Take a look at the aging curve. Cole might be a little ahead of this given his stuff, but the Yankees have to be comfortable with the fact that the long-term benefits likely won’t be that significant, but the short-term ones will be. Teams anyways are likely to be willing to pay Cole a ton for his good years and reap the benefits while overpaying in the back end of the contract. That’s what the Yankees have to do.
In my opinion, the Yankees just need to bite the bullet and be bold. Will they?