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After Gerrit Cole Deal, Yankees' Swagger Is Going into Overdrive

Bob KlapischFeatured Columnist IDecember 13, 2019

Houston Astros Game 3 starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws on the field at Yankee Stadium, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in New York, after the team arrived to prepare for the American League Championship Series which continues Tuesday against the New York Yankees. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is one of the most well-liked executives in baseball, but even his closest friends admit they've been baffled by his relative restraint in spending over the past few years. 

Their message: Stop feeling guilty about your money.

"I've told Brian so many times, 'If I had your resources, I wouldn't hold back. I'd spend every last penny,'" one general manager said. He then paused for effect before adding: "And I wouldn't care what anyone thought."

It looks like that advice finally made its way to the top.

Cashman got the green light from the Steinbrenner family to blow away the competition for free-agent ace Gerrit Cole this week. The Yankees didn't just spend; they turned the bidding war into a no-fly zone. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't dare to encroach.

It just goes to show that there's no match for Yankees' wealth when they decide to go big.

Cole's record-setting nine-year, $324 million contract was meant to show off their financial might and, just as significantly, to proclaim their supremacy in the American League.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Who is capable of closing the gap on the Bombers now that they've added the game's most dominant pitcher? Not the Houston Astros. Losing Cole robs them of their best pitching weapon. Besides, the entire organization is under a black cloud following allegations that it stole signs. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has mobilized his investigations department to hunt down the culprits. The punishments are likely to be severe. 

That leaves the Minnesota Twins, who are hardly on the Yankees' radar. The Boston Red Sox? They're breaking it down to start a three-year rebuild. The Tampa Bay Rays? With all due respect, no. 

Cole will take the ball on Opening Day against the Baltimore Orioles and—no joke—Twitter followers are already talking about a no-hitter. Those are the expectations that will greet the Yankees not just in April, but from the first day pitchers and catchers report in Tampa. That's the secondary surcharge here: You pay for Cole, now you have to win.

That's the been the Yankees' goal since their on-the-fly rebuild in the second half of 2016. They've been surging since—their win total has increased steadily each season—but the momentum has slowed.

Despite leading the industry in advanced analytics and player development, acquiring reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in 2018 and stumbling on DJ LeMahieuwho's aptly nicknamed the Machine for swinging and missing only 6 percent of the time (just about half the major league rate)the Yankees fell short in 2019, just as they did in '18 and '17.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Despite the 103 regular-season victories, the Yankees were no longer surging. They were instead becoming the '90s-era Knicks, loaded with talent but unable to get past the Bulls. And when the balance of power shifted in the NBA, the Knicks ran into another immovable object: the Pacers.

The lesson here? The championship window doesn't stay open forever. That factored heavily in team owner Hal Steinbrenner's willingness to run the table on the Cole negotiation. He told Cashman to negotiate freely and offer whatever it would take lure the right-hander away from the Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels.

That was a huge concession from George Steinbrenner's youngest son, who until now has been everything his father wasn't: polite, careful with the media (when he agreed to be interviewed, which wasn't often) and financially disciplined. Hal has turned the Yankees into a billion-dollar business. It's no stretch to say they're flush with cash. They lead the American League in attendance and are now in partnership with Amazon. They might as well be printing money. 

But Hal was no Boss—until now. And as Cashman noted while speaking to reporters at the winter meetings: "Usually when a Steinbrenner wants something, a Steinbrenner gets something." 

That pronouncement needed no translation. A rival executive sighed and said, "The old Yankees are back." And not entirely in disgust, either. 

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Baseball needs this "Death Star," as Cashman likes to call his team. The old Yankees were either loved or loathed; there were few undecideds in the polling. Fans either cursed George's money and the championship run of the late '90s, or they got hooked on the most prodigious hot streak in franchise history—four rings in five years. 

The last time the Steinbrenners decided to end a championship drought was after the 2008 season, when the Yankees didn't even make it to the playoffs. That offseason's shopping list included CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. Ten months later, the Yankees were riding a parade float down Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes.

No less is expected of them in 2020 thanks to Cole.

It's a lot to ask of one man, but Cole is both talented and fearless enough to get the Yankees over the hump, and the Bombers don't think it's much a leap, anyway. They were one pitcher short of the World Series this past October. Considering they had to start a reliever, Chad Green, in the elimination game of the American League Championship Series, Cole should be a difference-maker for them.

Could this perfect world somehow become unglued? Of course. Gleyber Torres, the line-drive machine of the future and now their everyday shortstop, might get hurt. Stanton might keep shuttling on and off the injured list forever. Aaron Judge could struggle to recapture the magic of his 52-home run season in 2017. The whole offense might disappear with runners in scoring position in October. That has ended their season three years in a row. 

But no one in the Yankees family is thinking that way. As of now, they already consider themselves bulletproof.

If you hate that arrogance and you hate their money, the response comes straight out of the past: too bad.

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