The New York Yankees are finally able to call Gerrit Cole one of their own. It only took 11 years of trying, a nine-year pact worth $324 million and an opt-out clause in 2024.
The organization held Cole – now the richest pitcher in baseball – in high regard for well over a decade. The front office selected him with their first round pick in the 2008 draft but the California native decided to take his talents to UCLA. When the Pittsburgh Pirates made their 26-year-old rising star available in trade talks, Brian Cashman made a huge play to bring Cole to the Bronx. He ended up in Houston, made a World Series appearance and twice finished in the top five in Cy Young voting in his two years with the Astros.
The irony of it all is that if Cole indeed decided to forego the collegiate level and sign with the Yankees out of high school, the likelihood is he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in at this very moment.
At that time, the Yankees’ organizational philosophy wasn’t what it is today. Back in 2008, developing prospects wasn’t a priority. Who’s to say Cole doesn’t get shipped out in a trade for a 30-something-year-old, past his prime All-Star?
What if Cashman decided to include Miguel Andujar in trade talks with the Pirates and Cole is ultimately acquired by the Yankees in January 2018? Cole showed flashes of ace potential during his time with the Bucs but inconsistencies held him back from taking his game to the next level. The Astros and their top-tier analytics department were able to extract even more talent from the already uber-talented hurler, transitioning Cole from ‘what could be’ to arguably the best starter in the game.
Cole gives the Yankees an ace in every sense of the word, something the organization hasn’t truly had since CC Sabathia’s early years in pinstripes. The 29-year-old will bump Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka down into the two, three and four slots in the rotation, natural spots for each of them.
Cole is a bulldog, one that relishes the spotlight. In Cole’s 33 starters in 2019, he pitched in seven or more innings in 17 of them. The bulk of the Yankees’ rotation in 2019, one that featured Tanaka, Paxton, Sabathia, J.A. Happ and Domingo German, combined for 24 starts of seven or more innings. Place Cole on the 2019 Yankees and he would’ve led the team in all major statistical pitching categories, ranging from wins to ERA, from FIP to total strikeouts, from WHIP to ERA+ and nearly everything in between. The newest Bronx Bomber would’ve even dominated in advanced stats; after all, he was in the top four percent league-wide in strikeout percentage, xBA, xSLG, wOBA and xwOBA.
Cole’s star shines bright when it matters most – another reason the Yankees decided to break the bank for his services. He boasts a career postseason ERA of 2.60 with a win probability of 1.36 and nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Cole has also averaged over six innings per playoff start, something that a team that relies so heavily on their bullpen desperately needs.
Nine years may be a long time. But for a pitcher that hasn’t dealt with a major arm injury and possesses elite control, Cole may be just as good – hell, even better – as time goes on.
The latest attempts at championship number 28 began in 2017. The Yankees were close that year but believed their young core was only getting started. They ran into a buzzsaw that was the Boston Red Sox in 2018. 2019 saw them win 100 games for the second straight year while simultaneously capturing an American League East crown but were ultimately defeated by the Gerrit Cole-led Astros.
We’re months away from the 2020 season, but it’s safe to say the Yankees have their best shot at the Commissioner’s trophy since the retooling process began nearly four years ago.
Why? Because they finally got their man.
Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.