Passan added the Yankees identified Cole as "their clear offseason priority."
Passan reported the belief among some MLB executives is that Cole could receive more than $250 million.
Last offseason the Yankees made little effort to pursue Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the two biggest stars on the open market. General manager Brian Cashman indicated in November that wouldn't be the case again with Cole and Stephen Strasburg available.
Despite finishing second to teammate Justin Verlander in the American League Cy Young voting, Cole led all pitchers in WAR (7.4) in 2019, per FanGraphs. He averaged 13.8 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings while posting a 2.64 FIP.
At one point, the veteran right-hander went 11 straight starts with double digits in strikeouts (playoffs included).
Starting pitching is by far the Yankees' biggest need. They have a solid rotation that includes James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, but they lack a truly elite ace such as Cole.
The Yankees have reached the American League Championship Series in two of the last three years, falling short of reaching the World Series. Their last title came in 2009, which is a veritable drought for a franchise that carries such high expectations every year.
Adding Cole wouldn't guarantee New York a title in 2020, but it would help shore up one of the team's most obvious holes.
And if ownership is prepared to spare no expense in pursuit of the three-time All-Star, the Yankees arguably vault to the front of the line to get his signature.