The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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6 Teams That Need Gerrit Cole

It’s no secret Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole is the hottest thing in free agency this off-season.  In reality, every MLB team could use Cole.  However, in reality most teams will not be able to afford signing him, so his pursuit will likely be narrowed to six or eight teams. 

Cole’s new contract is expected to be the richest deal ever signed by a major-league pitcher.  According to MLB. com, Stephen Strasburg made the most of any pitcher this year at $38.2 million.  David Price signed the largest valued contract for a pitcher (7 years, $217 million) back in 2016.  With Cole at 29 years of age next season, it’s not out of the question that he can command a seven or eight-year contract worth $35-40 million per year.

He will be most heavily recruited by teams that figure they are one pitcher (of Cole’s caliber) short of getting to the World Series in the next year or two.  That’s largely the mentality of baseball ownership these days when looking at making huge investments in players like Cole.

Here’s my rundown on the feasible teams that need Cole in order to compete for a World Series ring next year.

Yankees – The Yankees should have upgraded their starting pitching this season at the trade deadline, but didn’t pull the trigger. They lack a bonafide ace at this point.  Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Domingo German, even assuming they are injury-free, are not their answer.  With CC Sabathia retiring and Dellin Betances possibly looking to free agency, the Yankees could shed existing payroll that would help offset the high price for Cole.  He was originally drafted out of high school by the Yankees in the first round of 2008 draft, but he chose to attend UCLA.  He’s been quoted in the past as saying he has always wanted to play for the Yankees.  The Yankees’ bullpen and offense carried the team in 2019.  Cole could be their answer to shore up their rotation next year and beyond.

Red Sox – Starting pitching was an Achilles heel this year, after winning the World Series in 2018.  None of their three former Cy Young Award winners (David Price, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale) had a good year.  Injuries contributed somewhat to that situation, but none of them are the same as they were just a few years ago.  There is concern that Sale has already flamed out at 30 years old.  With their potent offense, an ace like Cole can put them back into contention for a pennant next season.  The Red Sox are accustomed to paying the luxury tax on payroll, so Cole’s high price shouldn’t be a hindrance.

Dodgers – At first blush, the Dodgers would seem to be a questionable suitor for Cole.  After all, their main need is in the bullpen, while their starters were among the best in the league in ERA and WHIP.  However, Rich Hill (age 40) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (age 32) won’t likely be retained as they enter free agency.  (Their combined salary of $36 million in 2019 could pay for Cole.)  As we saw in the playoffs, Clayton Kershaw appeared to have run out of gas after the regular season.  He’s already been displaced by Walker Buehler as the ace of the staff.  Thus, help will be needed in the rotation, and the addition of Cole with Buehler could make for a combo that compares favorably with any others (Strasburg/Scherzer or Verlander/Greinke) in baseball.  With Cole, the Dodgers would be a shoo-in to win their eighth consecutive division title.

Angels – The same observation (about being a questionable suitor) can be made about the Angels, but for a different reason.  After finishing with the worst record in the league in 2019 with one of the worst pitching staffs, they are several years away from being a contender for the post-season with their current roster.  Joe Maddon has been brought on as manager with the expectation he will turn around their program within a few years, like he did with the Rays and Cubs.  The acquisition of Cole and a few other pieces of supporting staff could jump-start their renewal.  The Angels have an urgent need to take advantage of superstar Mike Trout’s prime years. (He has played in only one post-season during his nine years.)  They can’t wait more than a couple of years to be relevant, and Cole would greatly accelerate the process.  There are indications Cole would like to play near his home town on the West Coast.  The Angels would be glad to make that happen.  Like they did with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, the Angels won’t hesitate to spend the necessary money to get him.

Phillies – They spent big bucks last winter to boost their offense with the addition of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, JT Realmuto, and Jean Segura.  As a result, they had expectations of getting to the playoffs, and for a while (through the middle of June) it looked like they might do it.  However, their pitching staff was well below average.  Aaron Nola wasn’t as good as he was in 2018, when he was a Top 3 finalist for the Cy Young Award, while 33-year-old Jake Arrieta was able to pitch only 140 innings.  The Braves and Nationals are likely to be very competitive again, so the Phillies have to do something dramatic to stay in the mix.  The addition of Cole could be a difference-maker in their outlook for 2020.

Cubs – Chicago had the oldest pitching staff in the National League last season, so they have to be thinking about how they will rejuvenate their starting rotation.  Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, and Cole Hamels, all previous top-of-the-rotation pitchers, can’t be expected to continue being the workhorses.  In order for the Cubs to remain competitive with the Cardinals and Brewers, who made the playoffs with first and second-place finishes in 2019, they will need an upgrade like Cole.

So, what about the Astros?  Are they completely out of the picture on Cole?  It seems so, given their current salary situation.  They have eight players tying up $150 million next year, not including impending raises for Carlos Correa, George Springer and Roberto Osuna.  The Astros acquired Zach Greinke, not only to bolster the rotation for this year’s playoff run, but as a hedge if Cole did not return in 2020.  They also have Lance McCullers Jr. returning from Tommy John surgery next year, so a rotation of Verlander, Greinke, McCullers, and Jose Urquidy could be sufficient to win the division title again in 2020.  They also have 2016 first-round draft pick Forrest Whitley in the minors being groomed for a rotation spot.

Stephen Straburg declined his option to re-sign with the Nationals.  You can’t blame him for wanting to test the market after the sterling post-season performances he turned in.  It’s possible he could still wind up with the Nats, but the suitors for Cole will also be looking at Strasburg as an alternative.

Cole proved during the playoffs, as well as the regular season, the type of impact a big-time pitcher can have on a team.  That’s why the teams, with near-term windows of opportunity to claim a World Series ring, are willing to shell out the bucks Cole will command.

2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Bill | November 04, 2019 at 06:40 PM EST

Richard-

Thanks for an excellent analysis. The team the signs Cole will need to make a very big investment. That team will have to pin its hopes on Cole being able to duplicate his incredible 2019, at least once or twice during the length of his multi-year contract.

Following the Yankees as day in and day out, I'd love to see them sign Cole.

2. Richard | November 10, 2019 at 11:08 PM EST

Agree! The Yanks need to make a valiant effort to get him. Thanks for your note.

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