SAN DIEGO — The Yankees, at last, have landed the player GM Brian Cashman called his and the organization’s “white whale.”
And it’s made them the hands-down favorite to win the 2020 World Series.
It occurred late Tuesday night when Gerrit Cole, the cream of this year’s free-agent crop, agreed to a record nine-year $324 million contract with the Yankees, sources confirmed.
Cole, whom the Yankees drafted but failed to sign in 2008 and were unsuccessful trading for two offseasons ago, gives them the ace they’ve believed was missing. The Yankees won 103 games last season but fell to the Astros in six game in the ALCS, with Cole winning Game 3 of the series at the Stadium.
Now the 29-year-old’s new home is the Bronx, his signing the coming-to-fruition of a Cashman line a year ago when he called the Yankees “a fully operational death star,” of which they unquestionably are again.
The Yankees did not confirm the deal, which won’t become official until Cole passes a physical, but that is considered all but a formality at this point.
Cashman happened to be dining at the same local restaurant here late Tuesday night as Joe Maddon. The new Angels manager, whose team was considered the co-favorite to sign Cole, walked up to Cashman and was seen to say, “congratulations, man.”
Cole, a southern California native who grew up a Yankees fan but in the shadow of Angels Stadium, went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA last season with the Astros in finishing second to teammate Justin Verlander in AL Cy Young Award voting. He soars to the head of a Yankees rotation that includes Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ, though the latter could be traded in attempt to get keep the Yankees under the third, and highest, luxury tax threshold of $248 million. The Yankees, before agreeing to terms with Cole, already had committed roughly $212 million in payroll for 2020, which put them past the first threshold of $212 million.
Club insiders have said managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner entered the winter determined to keep the 2020 payroll under the third luxury-tax threshold, but those same insiders said in recent weeks the owner became more and more open to surpassing it for Cole.
The appeal was obvious. Not only could Cole give the Yankees one of the top pitchers — if not the top pitcher — in the game, but also the kind of buzz that could result in millions of dollars in ticket sales, merchandise, etc. that could offset the tax.
Steinbrenner’s green light manifested itself last week when Cashman led a Yankees contingent that included assistant GM Mike Fishman, manager Aaron Boone, new pitching coach Matt Blake and Andy Pettitte, who was Cole’s favorite player growing up, to meet with the free agent pitcher in California and make a pinstriped pitch.
Speaking earlier in the day Tuesday, Cashman said he had received the go-ahead from Steinbrenner to put forth a “championship-caliber” offer, which clearly this was as Cole smashed the previous record contract signed by a pitcher, the seven-year $245 million deal another Scott Boras client, Stephen Strasburg, signed on Monday with the Nationals. The record before that was the seven-year $217 million contract David Price signed with the Red Sox.
“I can't guarantee we're going to wind up with the player,” Cashman said. “I can just guarantee a championship-caliber effort on our part, with the sign of the cross from ownership with that. If it turns out to be us, we will feel good about improving our club in that direction and if it doesn't turn out to be us then we'll sleep well at night knowing we put a strong effort towards trying to secure the talent.”
Finally, in their third and likely final attempt with Cole, the Yankees did.