The Yankees are going ace shopping, and this offseason the front-line starter store is in Southern California.
Ahead of next week’s winter meetings in San Diego, the Yankees met in the Golden State with Gerrit Cole on Tuesday and will meet with Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday, according to multiple reports. Cole is from Orange County, Strasburg from San Diego, and both free agents are represented by agent Scott Boras, who is also based in Southern California.
Upgrading the rotation is the publicly declared offseason priority for managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman, and either of these righthanders would immediately headline a group of Yankees starting pitchers currently without a proven ace.
The Associated Press reported that Cashman, manager Aaron Boone and new Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake went to California to speak with Cole.
Signing Cole, 29, or Strasburg, 31, would require the Yankees to buck their recent financial trends. They haven’t given out a nine-figure contract since the 2013-14 offseason, when they locked up Masahiro Tanaka (seven years, $155 million) and Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million). And Steinbrenner is wary of crossing the third luxury-tax threshold of $248 million — less than $40 million away — in 2020.
“It’s a big deal,” Steinbrenner said in an interview with the YES Network that aired Monday night. “It’s something we would certainly prefer not to do because there are June draft ramifications, there are numerous ramifications. But that is something I would consider.”
Steinbrenner also said that “all options are open as far as I’m concerned” in the Yankees’ free-agent dealings, though he declined to comment specifically on Cole and Strasburg.
This is at least the Yankees’ third try at obtaining Cole. They picked him in the first round (28th overall) in the 2008 amateur draft, but he opted to attend UCLA instead of going pro. Before the 2018 season, the Yankees made the Pirates a trade offer for Cole, but Pittsburgh sent him to Houston.
Two years, two All-Star appearances and two top-five Cy Young finishes later, Cole is a free agent coming off the best year of his career: 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 326 strikeouts (48 walks) in 212 1/3 innings.
Cole showed he could do it in the postseason, too, posting a 1.72 ERA and holding hitters to a .165/.232/.283 slash line while averaging 7 1/3 innings in five starts.
Strasburg, perhaps the most hyped pitching prospect ever before he debuted in 2010, also had a strong 2019: 18-6, 3.32 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 251 strikeouts (56 walks) in 209 innings. He has a long injury history but stayed healthy last season, reaching the 30-start plateau for the first time since 2014. And he is good when healthy, with a career 3.17 ERA.
Like Cole, Strasburg had a strong October: six games (five starts), 1.98 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 47 strikeouts (four walks) in 36 1/3 innings. After his Nationals won the World Series, he opted out of the final four years and $100 million of his contract.
Adding either pitcher would be done with an eye toward more than this season. Tanaka and James Paxton are slated to become free agents next offseason, and J.A. Happ has a 2021 option that vests with 165 innings or 27 starts this season.