Yankees Rumors: Gerrit Cole Signs Historic 9-Year, $324M Contract with NYY

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2019

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 10:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros reacts after striking out Willy Adames (not pictured) #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning in game five of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 10, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The New York Yankees snagged the biggest fish on the MLB free-agent market, agreeing to a nine-year, $324 million deal with starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported the Los Angeles Angels offered Cole a large contract as well but noted it was less than $300 million. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported Cole has an opt-out after the fifth year of the deal.

The general lack of hot-stove action was one of the biggest stories of the 2019 offseason. That led some to wonder what kind of deal would materialize for Cole. Even though he was coming off a dominant season that ended with a runner-up finish in the Cy Young voting, he was ultimately at the mercy of the market.

Last year showed teams were still prepared to offer top dollar for the best free agents, though.

Patrick Corbin signed with the Washington Nationals for $140 million over six years. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper both had to wait far longer than anybody expected, but they got $300 million and $330 million, respectively.

Cole was in a position to name his price.

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An All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015, the 29-year-old right-hander took his game to another level when the Pirates traded him to the Houston Astros in January 2018.

Over the past two seasons, he ranked third among starting pitchers in WAR (13.4) and FIP (2.67) and first in strikeout rate (13.13 per nine innings).

Cole picked a great time to have a career year. He went 20-5 in 33 starts and struck out 326 batters, the highest number since Randy Johnson had 334 strikeouts in 2002, according to Baseball Reference. At one point, he registered at least one strikeout in 73 straight innings between the regular season and playoffs.

Astros right fielder Josh Reddick told Bleacher Report's Scott Miller that Cole's impending free agency was a topic of discussion in Houston's clubhouse.

"All the time. All the time," Reddick said. "I think everybody's looking at that across baseball. [Bryce] Harper money? [Manny] Machado money? It's going to be interesting. Hopefully he's out of our division."

The obvious concern around Cole for New York is that he has peaked and this contract will come to be regrettable in a few years.

David Price ($217 million over seven years), Yu Darvish ($126 million over six years) and Johnny Cueto ($130 million over six years) are among the biggest free-agent misfires in recent offseasons. Chris Sale's five-year, $145 million extension with the Boston Red Sox is shaping up badly too after he had the second-highest FIP (3.39) of his career and was limited to 25 appearances.

Having said that, the Nationals would do Max Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million deal over again in a heartbeat if given the chance. Zack Greinke is providing a solid return on the six-year, $206.5 million contract he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as well.

Cole's success in Houston wasn't a fluke and points to a concerted effort to rework his approach to suit his abilities.

The sinker has all but disappeared from Cole's pitching repertoire. According to Brooks Baseball, his sinker percentage fell from 16.48 with the Pirates in 2017 to 2.82 in his first season with the Astros. It fell further to 0.36 percent in 2019.

That coincided with a rise in his breaking-ball usage. Together, his curveball and slider accounted for 39.07 percent of his pitches in 2018 and 38.49 percent in 2019.

Imagine standing in the box against a pitcher who can hit 100 mph on the radar gun and also deliver knee-buckling breaking stuff.

In an interview with Passan, Astros manager A.J. Hinch pointed to Cole's dominant outing in Game 2 as an example of what made him so difficult to face:

"When you see five punchouts on the fastball, five punchouts on the breaking ball chase, five punchouts on the hard slider⁠—that is pure dominance across the board. Very rarely in the big leagues can you go to the same area at-bat after at-bat after at-bat. He pitches deep enough into games to get to face these guys three, sometimes four times. His mind and his ability to trust his adjustments set him apart."

Anybody who watched Cole in Pittsburgh knew he had the tools to become an ace. The Pirates haven't excelled recently at developing their homegrown talent, though, with many fans pointing out the irony of Cole facing off with Tyler Glasnow, another former Pirates prospect, in a decisive playoff game.

During his time in Houston, Cole got the coaching necessary to maximize his potential.

Now, he'll be tasked with anchoring the Yankees' starting rotation.

From the start, the Yankees were considered one of the favorites to land Cole. They clearly have the financial resources to meet his demands, and they had an obvious need to add an ace to fill out their starting rotation.

Yankees starters were collectively 18th in FIP (4.74), and it was hard not to contrast their playoff rotation with that of the Astros in the American League Championship Series.

New York relied on James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, while Houston counted on Cole, Greinke and Justin Verlander. While the Yankees trio was solid, the Astros countered with a pair of Cy Young winners and arguably the best starting pitcher in 2019.

By signing Cole, the Yankees simultaneously shored up one of the biggest holes in their roster and dealt a blow to a pennant rival.

     

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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