The Gerrit Cole saga has ended. Late Tuesday night, Jon Heyman announced that the ace has signed a 9-year, $324-million deal with the New York Yankees, crushing the highest AAV for a pitcher in MLB history, set earlier in the week by Stephen Strasburg.
The Yankees have been fascinated with the 29-year-old for years, dating back to when they handed him a blank check after drafting him with the 28th pick in 2008. He declined, electing to spend his next three years at UCLA before being picked #1 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees were also in talks to acquire Cole from Pittsburgh Cole a few offseasons ago, but they weren’t willing to meet the steep price, and he ended up being moved to the Houston Astros, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Before the move to Houston, Cole’s talents were well-known. In five years in Pittsburgh, Cole pitched to a 3.50 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 3.47 xFIP, with a solid 16.4% K-BB%. After the 2017 season, the Pirates began shopping the right-hander. If they had known what they were about to give up, they would’ve laughed Astros GM Jeff Luhnow off the phone when he offered Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin. Instead, the Pirates accepted, and shipped Cole off to Houston. With the help of Brett Strohm and the rest of the unbelievable Astros pitching staff, Cole found something. Whatever it was, saw a 100-200 RPM increase in the spin rate of almost all of Cole’s pitches between 2017 and 2018 and a slighter increase between 2018 and 2019. An increasingly effective arsenal meant everything for Cole, as he put up uncanny numbers in his last two seasons in Houston. After an amazing first year, Cole rose to another level in 2019. Cole pitched to a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 2.48 xFIP, 2.62 SIERA, and a 7.4 fWAR, ranking first in each of the categories besides ERA and FIP, where he placed third and second, respectively. With all that, Cole’s 34.0% K-BB% in 2019 is the highest ever recorded, dating back to 1916. Also, Cole earned a victory in 19 straight decisions, including the playoffs, with the streak ending in Game One of the World Series, and a strikeout total in the double digits in 11 consecutive starts, including his two ALDS masterpieces against the Rays. Dominant doesn’t even begin to describe Gerrit Cole in 2019, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for him.
The bidding war for Cole was spotlighted by two main buyers: the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels. With the go-ahead from Hal Steinbrenner to do whatever it takes to reel in the 6’4 righty, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman got Gerrit Cole to sign on the dotted line. Cole’s contract absolutely demolished the record-setting seven-year, $245-million contract handed to fellow free agent starter Stephen Strasburg earlier in the week. It is just the fifth contract in MLB history to exceed $300-million, and the first for a pitcher. It also matches the most average annual value (AAV) in the history of baseball with Mike Trout‘s $35.8-million.
Signing Cole takes the Yankees from contender to favorite. A rotation already led by perennial ace Luis Severino, stud James Paxton, and postseason king Masahiro Tanaka will add a top-two pitcher in baseball into the fold. Insert that with a star-studded bullpen and one of the best offenses in the league, and the Yankees are without a doubt the team to beat entering next season.
So what comes next for the Bombers? With the Cole signing bursting through the luxury tax, the Yankees could look for some low budget moves in rounding out the rest of their 26-man roster. Austin Romine, Dellin Betances and Brett Gardner are all free agents, and the Yankees could look to bring back all of them on lower-end deals. If they are unable, replacements for all are either ready in-house, or available on the market, as Romine and Gardner will most likely play bench roles if they return to The Bronx. After declining the option on Edwin Encarnacion, the Yankees are still in need of one more bat to finish off a stacked lineup. There are a lot of options out there, read here to see how the Yankees could finish off the offseason.
For teams like the Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Minnesota Twins who missed out on Cole but still need rotational help, Hyun Jin-Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, and Madison Bumgarner, are just a few of the many solid starters on the market.
After a short saga, we now know that, for the next nine years, Gerrit Cole will call Yankee Stadium home. The Cole signing no doubt puts the Yankees at the top of the power rankings entering next year, but by no means guarantees anything. All I know is that it’s going to be a fun 2020 season for Yankee fans, who are searching for victory in the last game of the season for the first time in a decade.
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