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Gerrit Cole proved to be a bargain for Yankees in first year of $324M deal

Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees pitches

Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees pitches during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 31, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Gerrit Cole’s first season with his favorite childhood team didn’t result in one of the multiple titles Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said was his expectation last winter after signing him to a record nine-year, $324 million deal.

But no one, including Steinbrenner, would say the Yankees didn’t get their money’s worth out of the righthander.

Though there was the occasional hiccup — including the 14 homers allowed, second-most in the majors— Cole more than lived up to his status as one of the aces in the game, going 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 12 regular-season starts, striking out 94 in 73 innings.

"Outstanding," was Aaron Boone’s one-word synopsis of Cole’s initial season, a season unlike any other because of the impact COVID-19 had on it.

"He comes in with all these expectations, obviously, and understandably and rightfully so," Boone said at the end of the regular season in evaluating Cole. "The big [contract], the best pitcher in the game coming to the Yankees and all that goes with that — the team he cheered for as a kid — and now all of a sudden you throw 2020 on top of it and all that's transpired. He's gotten better as the season's gone on. He's entrenched himself in our culture and with our team, and I feel like he's pitching his best baseball that we've seen at this point as he gets ready to head into the postseason for the first time with us."

And that excellence continued in the playoffs where Cole went 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in three starts, striking out 30 and walking four in 18 1/3 innings and producing an opponents’ slash line of .188/.243/.391. Taking the ball on short rest for the first time in his career in last Friday’s deciding Game 5 against the Rays in the Division Series, Cole allowed one run and one hit over 5 1/3 innings in which he struck out nine and walked two in the 2-1 loss.

How does Cole look at his year in pinstripes?

"I think the first season, everybody’s going to think about coronavirus, right? It’s just on the forefront of all our minds," said Cole who, along with his wife, Amy, welcomed the couple’s first child, Caden, on June 30, just before the start of Spring Training II and all that came with that, including a laundry list of COVID-19 protocols. "In terms of our performance, we continued to get better throughout the year. I think there’s room for improvement. We’re always trying to evaluate, always trying to get better. It would be hard for me to say I’m not pleased with how we went about it. There were a lot of challenges, dealing with a newborn, being across the country, haven’t seen my family [in weeks]. It was really hard. It was really hard at times, and I just did the best I could."

Cole came to the Yankees with a reputation as a pitching savant, one desirous of gathering every imaginable piece of information that might possibly make a difference in a game. That included hanging around the bullpens at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa after his sessions and watching other Yankees pitchers throw — and not just the stars or top prospects. It was not an unusual sight, for example, to see Cole staying behind in the bullpen when he was done, intently watching the side sessions of pitchers who had little or no chance of making the club.

"Outside of things we can't control, like the virus and the shortened season, every time we took the ball, we just tried to get a little bit better," Cole said toward season’s end. "Gave our team a chance to win more often times than not, and I've settled in now with the guys and with the team in the locker room. I'm glad that we were able to put together a pretty good campaign for as short as it was."

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