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The ball is very much in Gerrit Cole's (and Scott Boras') court

Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws against the

Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws against the Nationals during the first inning of Game 5 of the World Series in Washington on Oct. 27. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

SAN DIEGO — To no one’s surprise, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg has returned to the Nationals, even after opting out of his previous deal on the same day of the team’s parade in D.C.

Sometimes contract language makes for unfortunate timing, but in the end, this is strictly business when Scott Boras is driving the bus. And for all the talk Monday of Strasburg’s personal history with the Nationals, who drafted him with the No. 1 pick in 2009, were uber-protective of his health despite public criticism for doing so and ultimately rode him to a World Series upset of the Astros, the reunion never happens without general manager Mike Rizzo writing the monster check.

The Nationals ponied up big, too, giving Strasburg a seven-year, $245 million contract, the richest ever for a pitcher — blowing away the $217 million deal David Price signed with the Red Sox in 2015.

Strasburg’s reign as the record-holder, however, will be brief, lasting only as long as it takes for Boras to extract roughly $300 million for Gerrit Cole, who could wind up with the Yankees, Angels or Dodgers in a matter of hours rather than days. Cole is younger, healthier and better than Strasburg, so it only gets easier for Boras from here — and harder for Cole’s suitors to stomach.

Out of respect for Strasburg and the Nationals, Boras declined to discuss the Cole situation Monday as he sat next to Rizzo at the podium. But Boras did mention plans to stage another news conference of his own Tuesday at noon, presumably when the warm, fuzzy feelings over Strasburg’s megadeal will have faded.

This is becoming a very fast-moving market, and when a reporter asked Boras why it took so long for Strasburg to re-up with the Nationals despite the mutual lovefest, he scoffed at the notion. Boras, after all, is notorious for dragging out negotiations into late February, so to him the question was comical.

“Took a while?” Boras said, smiling. “I don’t know where you’ve been the last two years, but this is like the beginning of the summer for me.”

Rarely does it get this easy for Boras. As soon as Zack Wheeler signed that five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies last week, all Boras had to do was bring a large suitcase to the Nationals’ suite in San Diego to catch the money they’d be throwing at him for Strasburg. The same is true for Cole, only more so.

Boras heads into every offseason praying that he can coax the Yankees into the conversation about his clients. Last year, he couldn’t do it with Bryce Harper. But this December, the Yankees not only are desperate for an elite No. 1 starter but showed up on Boras’ doorstep in Newport Beach days before the winter meetings to get a head start on the dialogue for Cole and Strasburg.

As soon as that happened, Boras had won.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn’t show up in San Diego until Monday afternoon, thanks to his previous night’s rappelling obligations in Stamford, Connecticut, and then took a pass on his usual media briefing after a pair of building-side chats with reporters over the weekend. But the expectation was that he planned to present a formal offer for Cole shortly after his arrival, with Cashman surely gunning for a quick resolution.

Now that Strasburg’s $245 million is on the books, Boras and Cashman can do away with the playful banter. The bidding for Cole has to start at $300 million, and that puts Cashman in a precarious position.

While Strasburg was viewed as a potential fallback position, most had him penciled in for the Nationals from the jump, and Wheeler came off the board before both of the market’s most coveted arms.

So now it’s Cole or bust for the Yankees. In the Angels and Dodgers, Cashman is facing two adversaries who possess as much financial firepower as he’s wielding at the moment, maybe even more. Even if Hal Steinbrenner has given his blessing to get Cole at almost any cost, can Cashman afford to go to eight or nine years if that’s where this poker game goes in the coming days?

Cashman already is wearing Giancarlo Stanton’s onerous contract, an impulse trade triggered when the Yankees lost out on Shohei Ohtani, who quickly ruled out signing with them despite their strong recruitment efforts and joined the Angels. Now the Angels are threatening Cashman again, and it could be a matter of who blinks first, because there’s no predicting where the ceiling will end up.

East Coast, West Coast. Forget the geography. In the wake of Strasburg’s signing, the compass for Cole is pointing in only one direction — north of $245 million.

Expect Cole to follow the money, and Boras is now leading him (and his suitors) into uncharted territory.

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