The New York Yankees ink life-long fan, Gerrit Cole, to a record-setting deal, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
The New York Yankees are officially back to being the Evil Empire. They made a move late Tuesday night that would have made the late George Steinbrenner proud. The Yankees got their “white whale” as Brian Cashman put it during an interview at the Winter Meetings. Gerrit Cole and the Yankees reportedly agreed to a record-setting, nine-year, $324 million contract.
Cole will be making $36 million per year, which is the most annual average salary for a pitcher in MLB history. The contract also reportedly includes an opt-out after five years and a full no-trade clause.
The 29-year-old is coming off the best season of his career. He pitched 212.1 innings totaling a career-high 326 strikeouts and pitched to a career-best 2.50 ERA and .895 WHIP. Cole also pitched to an incredible 13.8 SO/9. In his two seasons with Houston, Cole finished with a 35-10 record, pitched 412.2 innings with a 2.68 ERA, .962 WHIP, and totaled 602 strikeouts (Cole had 734 strikeouts in five seasons with Pittsburgh).
One can argue that starting pitching has been the Yankees Achilles heel for the past couple of seasons – their missing link. Especially last season, it felt like the Yankees were one solid starting pitcher away from being a true title contender.
Acquiring Cole fills a need that the Yankees have desperately needed for quite a while now. Not only is Cole great, but he also has a chance to be one of the best pitchers of this generation.
Cole makes the Yankees the BEST team in baseball. Their lineup is still one of the most dangerous in the game, their bullpen is still great, and a rotation consisting of Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka is right up there as one of the best in baseball. They are the team to beat and have to be the favorites to win the 2020 World Series.
After getting their top target, what’s next for New York?
Since the Yankees reportedly re-signed Brett Gardner to a one-year, $12.5 million deal with an option for a second year, next on my “to-do” list is to re-sign Dellin Betances. Betances is a four-time All-Star and has some elite stuff when he’s fully healthy. Unfortunately, he was decimated by injuries in 2019 and only got to pitch in .2 innings before partially tearing his Achilles.
Betances should look for a one-year contract to re-establish his value before hitting free agency again next offseason. What better place to re-establish yourself then in New York competing for a championship and showing that he can pitch under high expectations and high-pressure situations.
Now comes a more difficult decision: go with Kyle Higashioka or sign a free agent for the backup catcher role?
Since longtime backup Austin Romine reportedly signed a one-year, $4.15 million contract with the Tigers, Higashioka seems like the most logical fill in for the backup catcher role. The 29-year-old has been with the organization since being drafted in 2008 and has shown flashes of being a decent defensive catcher in his major league stints between 2017-19.
Cashman said a few months ago at the General Manager Meetings that he would be “comfortable” with Higashioka as the backup. Keep in mind, Higashioka is out of minor league options and will not be a free agent until 2025.
Now with Cole on the roster, do the Yankees try to sign his Astros personal catcher, Martín Maldonado? We were all witnesses to Cole’s greatness last season with Maldonado as his battery mate. Since the Yankees have nine years and $324 million invested into Cole, maybe it would be smart to bring in someone who he’s comfortable with and found success with.
My gut feeling is that the Yankees don’t sign Maldonado and allow Higashioka to be the full-time backup since it would be the cheaper, more logical route.
Finally, the last thing the Yankees need to do, whether it’s this offseason or during the 2020 season, is to give DJ LeMahieu an extension. He’s entering the final year of his contract, and after having an MVP-caliber season, the Yankees CANNOT let him hit the open market. LeMahieu is just as valuable as Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and now Cole.
Once these moves are complete, the Yankees will be ready to compete for championship No. 28. The missing link was starting pitching, and they just got one of the best in the business.
Signing Cole should make you ecstatic if you are a Yankees fan, and if you are a fan of another team, it makes you sick. This is what the Yankees are about, getting top-end talent at top-end prices.
This might be a perfect marriage between Cole and the Yankees since he did grow up a Yankees fan. There’s even a picture of him at Game 6 of the 2001 World Series in Arizona holding up a sign that reads, “Yankee fan today, tomorrow, forever.”
Gerrit Cole is now a New York Yankee today, tomorrow, and forever.