The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Was the Yankees' signing of Cole a good decision or not?

I cringe when major league teams sign these expensive, long-term deals for pitchers.  But when it’s my favorite team, I’m especially nervous.  When the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, my initial reaction was euphoria; but then as I thought about it more, I was sobered up by thoughts of other questionable deals involving David Price, Yu Darvish, and Barry Zito (remember him?).  Often, these mega-deals don’t pan out.

Yankees’ owner-chairman Harold Steinbrenner reportedly told GM Brian Cashman to spend whatever it took to get Cole, who was the top free agent pitcher on the market based on his sterling performance with the Houston Astros for the past two seasons.  When I heard that, it made me think ole George Steinbrenner was still alive somewhere in the bowels of Yankee Stadium.  Cashman took his boss at his word, as he proceeded to shell out $324 million in a nine-year deal. 

Cashman was determined not to not to strike out on Cole this go-around.  The Yankees selected him out of high school in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but he decided to attend UCLA instead.  Then over the winter following the 2017 season when the Pirates put Cole on the trading block, Cashman attempted again to acquire him, but lost out to Houston.

Cole’s deal set new marks for total contract value for a pitcher on the free-agent market and for highest average annual value for a free agent ($36 million).  Cole will be able to opt out of the contract after the fifth year.

Cole is in the prime of his career at 29 years old, so there is a good chance the Yankees will get at least 4-5 years from him, assuming he stays healthy.  Getting nine years of superior performance would be a stretch unless he is able to adjust his approach from primarily being a strikeout pitcher to one that incorporates more finesse in his repertoire.  Verlander is a good example of having done that.

However, that’s still a lot of dough being shelled out for one player.  When Cole’s salary is combined with Giancarlo Stanton’s mega-deal after the 2017 season, the Yankees will have salaries nearly $70 million per year tied up between them for the next nine years.  That could come back to haunt the Yankees later when contracts for their younger stars (Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino) come up for renewal.

Not since 2012, when CC Sabathia was still at the top of his game, have the Yankees had a true ace at the top of their rotation.  Since then, Matsuhiro Tanaka and Luis Severino have produced decent performances when they had their turns in the role, but they really weren’t true No. 1 starters.  Both have also dealt with injuries that hampered them. 

The Yankees were in real need of an ace.  They largely relied on their deep bullpen last year, after their starters put in their usual five innings.  That formula obviously worked, as the Yankees won 103 games, although they also benefitted from having one of the best offenses in the league.

Cole was considered the No. 2 guy on the Astros behind veteran Justin Verlander who narrowly won the American League Cy Young Award over Cole.  But make no mistake about it.  Cole could realistically be the ace of any other team in either league.  His 2019 numbers included a league-leading 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts.  Beginning May 27, he won 16 consecutive decisions through the end of the season.  With a total of 20 wins for the season, he barely missed out on the Triple Crown for pitchers (Verlander had 21 wins).

The Yankees would still be a playoff contender in 2020 with an additional starter of lesser talent than Cole, but his presence now makes them the favorite for the American League pennant.  They haven’t won a World Series since 2009.  That’s seems like an eternity for the Yankees’ ownership and its fans.  I think Cashman saw a window of opportunity to significantly enhance his team’s chances to immediately get back to a World Series with a pitcher like Cole or Stephen Strasberg, who re-signed with the Nationals a few days earlier.

George Steinbrenner was famous (although many would say infamous) for spending tons of money on free agents during the 1980s and early 1990s that got abysmal returns for the Yankees franchise.  Then there was Alex Rodriguez, who was released from his Yankees contract for the last 2+ years of his historic (now regrettable) long-term deal.  His production had fizzled out at age 35, when his contract term was supposed to take him through age 41.

Of course, I’m hoping Cole’s career with the Yanks ultimately ends up like Verlander’s, not A-Rod’s.

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