Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws in the top of the second...

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws in the top of the second inning against the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 1. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Yankees put all their chips on the table this offseason, declaring in the loudest possible voice that this was going to be their year.

They shipped off five players — including an increasingly impressive Michael King — to San Diego for one year of Juan Soto. That’s one year of Soto and Aaron Judge as the most fearsome lineup duo in major-league baseball, one year to stare down the 101-win Orioles, and one year to reclaim their status as “The” Yankees — formidable and inevitable, a Death Star with the capacity to obliterate.

And on top of it all, there was Gerrit Cole, with that valuable mix of durable workhorse and flame-throwing ace — the guy oddsmakers declared to be the favorite to repeat as AL Cy Young winner this coming season.

Except baseball doesn’t work that way, right? And now, the Yankees have to figure out exactly how much more they’re willing to wager on whatever is happening in Cole’s elbow, because this “one year” is too valuable to waste.

The truth is, we don’t know all that much about his status, only that it doesn’t sound particularly good. He’s had an MRI, a CT scan and an X-ray on his pitching elbow, Aaron Boone said, and the results were nebulous. He was on a plane to Los Angeles Wednesday morning to see renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache (of Aaron Rodgers fame) for more advanced testing. Boone could not rule out a ruptured UCL and he couldn’t rule out a quick return — Schrödinger's elbow, with so much of this team’s hopes on the line.

But whatever the diagnosis, Cole’s injury is a stark reminder that, for as potent as the Yankees can be, they’re also vulnerable — and perhaps not particularly well-built to withstand that vulnerability.

It’s not just Cole, though losing him would be a gigantic blow. It’s also Judge, who’s been dealing with core discomfort a year after his toe injury all but doomed the top-heavy Yankees. Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon are also coming back from injury-shortened seasons, and despite Rodon’s excellent outing Wednesday, both have struggled during spring training.

The Yankees probably needed one more arm even before the Cole news, and it certainly looks that way now.

There are solutions, but this late in the game, none of them are particularly tantalizing. Cy Young winner Blake Snell and former Yankee Jordan Montgomery have yet to be signed, but both are managed by Cole’s agent, Scott Boras. If Cole’s prognosis isn’t good, Boras will be one of the first to know, and one of the first to leverage that against the Yankees, who already floated Snell an offer that he reportedly rejected.

Above that, they’re at or near the fourth-highest luxury tax threshold, so whatever free agent they sign here on out will be taxed at a rate of 110% — which means, for instance, that Snell, who could command an average annual value of $30 million, would actually cost the Yankees $63 million this year. They would also lose a second- and fifth-round draft pick because Snell rejected his qualifying offer.

Dylan Cease might have been part of the solution, but the Padres pulled off a deal for the White Sox righthander on Wednesday night. ESPN had reported earlier that they wanted Yankees top prospect Spencer Jones, which stalled the talks.

Losing Cole for any significant stretch of time will only drive the price up, and Brian Cashman absolutely knows that. But it’s also a sacrifice he might have to make, because this year is beyond pivotal.

There is no guarantee Soto will decide to stay in the Bronx when his contract expires at the end of next season, and a losing team probably isn't going to do much to sway him to return. Add to that: This lineup is just going to get older and more injury-prone as the years tick by. Cole or no Cole, this is still a year the Yankees have to commit to being all in, because the alternative could be another lost season, in addition to the haul of lost pitchers and prospects they leveraged to get their young superstar.

So, they wait. They wait for the verdict, hope for the best, but prepare to double down.

Because the Yankees upped the ante when they traded for Soto. But depending on Cole’s elbow, it looks like everyone else could be holding all the cards.


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.