Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole speaks during a news conference at...

Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole speaks during a news conference at spring training on Monday, March 14, 2022, at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.


With Gerrit Cole saying Monday that it’s "not unusual" for Brian Cashman to "fill him in on stuff" before trades become public, we wondered if the previous night’s phone conversation between the Yankees’ general manager and his $324 million ace went something like this:

Cashman: "Hey Gerrit, it’s Cash. Just wanted to let you know we dealt Gary Sanchez to the Twins."

Cole: "Oh, wow. So Higgy’s the starter now. Cool. No more of those annoying personal catcher questions. Appreciate it . . . Who’d we get back?"

Cashman: "Josh Donaldson."

Cole: [Click. Dial tone.]

All kidding aside, let’s just say Donaldson wasn’t among Cole’s favorite people last season, and the feeling was mutual.

At the height of the Spider Tack controversy, Donaldson called out Cole, rhetorically asking if it was a "coincidence" that his spin rates plummeted shortly after four minor-leaguers were suspended for using sticky stuff on the baseball.

Donaldson could have declined to attach a name to those accusations. Instead, he chose to put Cole in the crosshairs, and the Yankees’ ace returned serve by whiffing him twice in their subsequent showdown, holding his icy glare for an extra beat and touching his visor in a "see-ya!" salute.

Given that prickly history, Aaron Boone brokered a summit in the manager’s office when Donaldson showed up Monday at Steinbrenner Field, where the two former combatants hashed out their differences during what was described by Cole as a "productive" meeting. We did not get the impression, however, that the two will be making dinner plans together anytime soon.

"If you’re committed to winning a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t matter," Cole said before adding: "Last year he wasn’t on my team, so it’s a little bit different than it is now. But as far as where my feet are today, it’s in the rearview mirror."

Donaldson did not regret saying what he did last season because he felt something needed to be done about the illegal goo on the baseballs. And he doubled down Monday, adding that if the outlaw behavior hadn’t been addressed, he’d still be talking about it, presumably within earshot of Cole in his new clubhouse.

However, Donaldson will be directing his favorite character trait — "relentlessness" — at opposing teams and rallying around Cole for the Yankees’ primary goal: winning a World Series. As for the question of whether he can be friends with Cole moving forward, Donaldson pumped the brakes a bit.

"At the end of the day, we’re here to play baseball," he said. "And that’s the only reason why we’re in the clubhouse. I think those guys in the clubhouse know from watching me as a competitor, they know that I want to win baseball games. And I think they respect that."

That’s a contributing factor to whatever residual friction remains. Donaldson and Cole are too alike in that regard — they don’t bend, which is an asset between the lines. On Monday, both said as much, as did Boone and Cashman. Now it’s up to the Yankees to absorb those Type A personalities, forced together after last season’s public conflict, and Donaldson wanted to address the issue immediately upon his Tampa arrival.

"I do feel like our clubhouse is equipped to handle these kind of things," Boone said. "The one thing I’m certain of is we’re bringing in a highly competitive, really good player that desperately wants to win, and I think that’s going to show itself on a daily basis with the way he goes about it. And I think everyone will be simpatico with that in our room because we have one common goal — and I think he’s all about it."

The Donaldson-Cole dynamic did cross Cashman’s mind when he considered the swap with the Twins, and one player mentioned that the clubhouse was buzzing about it after learning of the deal. But Cashman also said his long front-office tenure is filled with trades that brought in players perceived as villains who flipped the script after donning pinstripes.

Cashman cited Roger Clemens, guilty of using Yankees as target practice for years, as the perfect example. Maybe that wasn’t the best choice, though, considering that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner is infamous for alleged PED use that has kept him out of Cooperstown.

"When the dust settled, he became one of the more impactful Yankees I’ve ever had," Cashman said. "Not just on the mound, but one of the more positive influences in our clubhouse and a real leader. That stuff works its way out over the course of time because when you put the same uniform on, you have a common opponent — and it’s not each other."

The Clemens comp ignited a somewhat humorous response from Donaldson, who sparred with a reporter over the suggestion. Donaldson has an edginess to him that flares up on occasion, and it did again Monday, just as it did last season with Cole.

"Well, I don’t think there’s a lot of guys in there that hate me," Donaldson said. "I’m not the most hated person."

Cole wasn’t a fan, but even Donaldson admitted it’s better being on the same team now than having to stand in the box against him. And the same bold personality that poked their ace last year seems likely to be a strength for the Yankees with Donaldson now in pinstripes.


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