Gerrit Cole speaks to the media in a press conference...

Gerrit Cole speaks to the media in a press conference before on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Credit: Corey Sipkin

SAN DIEGO -- After more than a decade of hunting Gerrit Cole, from SoCal to Pittsburgh, from high school to the Pirates, Brian Cashman finally sat across from him, face-to-face, in the days leading up to the winter meetings.

“You’re my white whale,” Cashman said.

The room laughed. Cole, his wife Amy, the Boras Corp. team. We’re not sure the last time any of them leafed through a copy of Moby Dick, but you didn’t have to be a Melville scholar to get the reference. Like Ahab, Cashman had been thwarted in his every attempt to bring in Cole through the years, and finally there he was in front of the GM. This time, Cashman would not let him escape.

“It just kind of popped into my mind,” Cashman recalled Wednesday. “Seems to make sense. They all giggled. I think they all understood.”

And the Yankees, realizing Cole’s leviathan-level talent, later put together a record nine-year, $324 million contract that he agreed to late Tuesday night, ending Cashman’s epic pursuit in a most gratifying fashion. Seeing as the deal is not yet official, the GM declined to comment on Cole wearing pinstripes. But once the physical is completed, expect a formal Bronx introduction early next week.

By then, Cashman will have completed a personal odyssey that began with the Yankees drafting Cole out of Orange (California) Lutheran High as the 28th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Those are often a slam dunk for Cashman. After all, they’re the Yankees. But as the GM looks back now, Cole’s willingness to bet on himself, go to UCLA, then become the No. 1 pick by the Pirates three years later, the whole process provided insight into the pitcher he is today.

“Internally, we were frustrated,” Cashman said. “When you don’t get a pick to sign, there’s an internal frustration. You wonder where we went wrong and how we missed the signability. But how can you be upset with a family that they’re making life choices. You can’t make someone do what they’re not willing to do. You have to respect the power of their decision-making process.”

Cashman clearly remembered that once Cole reached free agency. It was different when the Yankees failed in their efforts to trade for him in 2017. That was all about the Pirates choosing the Astros’ package of players over Cashman’s bid. Cole, still under team control, couldn’t steer himself to the Bronx on his own.

For Cashman, however, that didn’t lessen the sting from losing out on an elite arm, one he felt could handle the pressures of pitching in the Bronx. Even as a high-schooler, Cole lit up the pages of the Yankees’ scouting reports, which described not only his dominant physical skills, but a blazing competitive fire.

How fitting that 11 years after losing him to UCLA, Cashman showed up at Newport Beach -- roughy a half-hour drive from Lutheran High -- to recruit Cole again, this time in person, and joined by a Yankees’ crew that included Andy Pettitte and the new data-whiz pitching coach Matt Blake.

Cashman was reluctant to call the meeting a sales pitch. More like an educational session to brief Cole on the total Bronx experience, only now as a 29-year-old coming off a Cy Young runner-up season. He’s also a finished product after posting a career-best 2.50 ERA and MLB-leading 326 strikeouts.

Who knows what might have happened if Cole had skipped UCLA to sign with the Yankees instead? Maybe Cashman would have another trophy or two. But there’s no rewriting history. All Cashman can do now is upgrade the Yankees’ future, and when he considered Cole’s impact, coming up with cash to blow away the competition -- the “hammer” as described by the GM -- was something the Yankees were prepared to do.

How often do you get the chance to right the wrongs of the past? And in Cole’s case, secure a generational talent by doing so? The Yankees easily outbid their two nearest rivals for Cole. The Dodgers were offering $300 million over eight years, but including deferrals, according to the L.A. Times, and the Angels reportedly didn’t get up to $300 million. Cashman pledged a “championship-caliber effort” to land Cole and that’s exactly what the Yankees delivered, leaving no doubt of their intentions.

Cashman shrugged off the rekindled “Evil Empire” label in the wake of Cole’s signing and dismissed the narrative that suddenly the Yankees were back to spending big to enhance their shot at a championship. To him, this is standard operating procedure when the Yankees want a franchise-changing player, and Cole’s status as Cashman’s white whale helped get him that $324 million payout.

“He seems to have demonstrated everything, in our estimation, that we’d love to have him here,” Cashman said.