Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees reacts on...

Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees reacts on the mound during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It’s Gerrit Cole’s big moment, finally leaving the ranks of great pitchers to never have won a Cy Young Award, but the Yankees don’t have much time to celebrate.

The clock’s ticking on Cole, who turned 33 in September, and is entering the fifth season of his nine-year, $324 million deal. Considering Cole’s durability, his pitching IQ and relentless drive to improve, there’s no reason to expect a decline on the near horizon. But thirty-something workhorse aces — even the thoroughbreds — tend to find some bumpy track before too long.

It’s impossible to predict exactly when. And Cole, really more than anyone currently in pinstripes, may be the walking egg-timer on this group’s sidetracked pursuit of a World Series title. That’s got to be on the mind of Hal Steinbrenner, who predicted “multiple” championships on the day Cole signed his record deal. You’ve never seen a Yankees owner so giddy as Hal that afternoon, other than his dad after one of the 27 titles.

But this Steinbrenner hasn’t been smiling much lately. And his media Zoom call last week turned out to be an excruciating exercise, with Hal assuming a defensive posture from his Tampa office, only hours before GM Brian Cashman switched to attack mode for his sparring session with reporters in the sunny courtyard of a Scottsdale resort.

Cole’s coronation serves as a badly-needed reprieve for the Yankees, a franchise very much under siege the past few months. He also provides affirmation that yes, star players can come to the Bronx and do hard things, despite the pressures that come with a mammoth contract and wearing those heavy pinstripes. Cole embraced all that from Day 1, and winning the Cy Young — the sixth Yankee to do so — has shown that sometimes you get what you pay for.

“People have set a really high bar of what it means to be a great Yankee,” Cole said Wednesday night after the unanimous vote was announced. “That served as an inspiration to me as a kid and gave me kind of a standard to shoot for. So it makes me tremendously proud that I feel like I’m holding up my end of the bargain for those great players and those great legacies. I’m contributing to the overall brand of what we do in New York.”

That’s a huge help this time of year, when Cole’s sales pitch is more valuable than his mound weaponry. But in the larger scope of their winter agenda, Cole’s — as now manifested by the Cy Young trophy — is merely a reminder of what needs to get done, and that’s surrounding Cole with a roster capable of making some headway on Hal’s 2019 pledge for the next Yankees’ dynasty.

Steinbrenner already has the blueprint. He used it to sign Cole four years ago, and retain Aaron Judge last December. Make them an offer they can’t refuse. If necessary, call from Italy in the middle of the night to close the deal. Even with agent Joel Wolfe’s foreboding message this week to free agents, telling The Athletic players need to be made of “teflon” to perform in New York, the Yankees still have leverage in the marketplace.

For one, they’re the Yankees, as Cole explained. You don’t get that anywhere else. Putting on the pinstripes just hits different. And two, Steinbrenner has plenty of money. This winter, there’s never been a greater urgency to flex that financial might. Cole is living proof that cash can solve a lot of problems in a no-cap sport like baseball.

“What makes Gerrit so great is how dedicated he is to being the best version of himself he can be,” Cashman said Wednesday in a statement. “He’s a pitcher’s pitcher, and we are lucky to have him leading our rotation and leading by example in our clubhouse.”

Few free-agent signings fulfill the expectations that followed Cole from his upstate childhood home to the Bronx. The Yankees desperately required an ace following their ’19 ALCS loss to the Astros — at the hands of Cole — so they purchased the best one available. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. Worked with their last Cy Young winner, too. The Yankees picked up $16 million on the ’99 trade for Roger Clemens — a lot of money back then — and two years later, after two more titles, he took home the sixth of his seven Cy Young trophies.

Combined with July’s All-Star Game start, this honor caps a dream season for Cole, but it can’t sugar-coat the Yankees’ misery as a whole. One of the more cogent snippets Cashman said during last week’s profanity-laced defense of the Yankees involved his recent consultations with Cole about assessing the team’s performance. And based on the pitcher’s commitment to the franchise, the newly-crowned Cy Young winner deserves a World Series capable cast around him.

“The thing about Gerrit Cole, which is spectacular, he’s like the smartest player I’ve ever come across,” Cashman said at the GM meetings. “He was already knee deep into finding ways to be better — when how much better could you be than what he just did? But that’s how he’s wired.”

Now the Yankees must get to work rounding up a bunch more players like him.


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