The Gerrit Cole Watch…

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And now we wait…

Will Gerrit Cole wear the famed Pinstripes or will he find refuge in a Southern California town?  I think the vast majority of the Yankees Universe want the long and anticipated addition of Cole to happen although I do not have the stats to show it. With no slight to Stephen Strasburg, an elite pitcher, Cole is the best available free agent pitcher on the market.

By now, we know the Yankees are targeting a major free agent for what feels like the first time since Masahiro Tanaka. When the Yankees were courting Masa, they went out of their way to show him the Yankees experience. GM Brian Cashman showed a ‘no holds barred’ approach during his recent meeting with Cole and agent Scott Boras, bringing along Manager Aaron Boone, Pitching Coach Matt Blake, and former Yankee great Andy Pettitte. Of course, I temper this knowing that they also brought along Team President Randy Levine, not exactly one of my favorites. Despite Levine’s presence, it is clear the Yankees mean business.

Last year, with free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Yankees fans were mixed and, in retrospect, there was no apparent strong interest from the team other than the obligatory dinners in New York. At the time, so many fans were saying Harper and Machado were “luxuries”. I still take exception to that word. When you haven’t won a championship in a decade, no player is a luxury. Still, I get it. The Yankees were able to get great production from a cheaper alternative in the form of David John LeMathieu. Hats off to the Yankees for identifying a great player without having to pay in excess of $300 million. There’s no doubt in my mind, if the Yankees had paid either Harper or Machado, we wouldn’t even be here talking about Cole despite the Yankees obvious need for an elite starting pitcher. Sure, the Yankees can afford it, but I don’t think they’d be considering the estimated $250-$280 million it will take to land Cole if they had paid $330 million to Harper or $300 million to Machado. In retrospect, it seems the Yankees had their eye on the prize (Cole) last year, a clear need and not a luxury.

The Yankees have been connected to Cole for a very long time. They drafted him in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft (28th overall), but we all know Cole did not sign, opting to attend UCLA after graduating from Orange Lutheran High School, a comprehensive private Christian co-educational college preparatory high school in Orange, CA despite his childhood status as a Yankee fan.

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Photo Credit: William Perlman, The Star Ledger

Even after the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Cole as the first overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft and signed him, there was always talk that connected Cole to the Yankees. It was apparent the Yankees had a continued interest in him over the years. It reached the epitome a couple of years ago when there was strong speculation the Yankees were going to acquire Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates. For a few days during the 2017-18 off-season, it felt like it was a done deal, but it never came together and the Pirates subsequently dealt Cole to the Houston Astros in January 2018 for what seemed like a lighter return than the Yankees could have offered (Pirates received Michael Feliz, Jason Martin, Colin Moran and Joe Musgrove). I know, the most rumored Yankee name was Clint Frazier, a player over-valued by most Yankee fans and a player the Pirates did not need at the time. I am convinced the Yankees could have found the right mix of players to entice the Pirates, but we’ll never really know unless former Pirates GM Neal Huntington decides to write a ‘tell-all’ book.

When ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted the other day the Yankees had ownership-level approval to go after Cole, it sent a wave of excitement through the Yankees Universe. After initial excitement, the realist in me knows that nothing is done until Cole’s signature is on the dotted line. There’s still time for the Los Angeles Angels or Los Angeles Dodgers, or some other team, to make a ridiculous offer. We know Cole is going to get more money than any free agent pitcher in history regardless of where he signs. David Price of the Boston Red Sox holds the highest contract value for a pitcher with $217 million, and Zack Greinke of the Houston Astros is the average annual value (AAV) leader at $34,416,667. Once Cole signs, he should be tops in both categories.

want Cole as a member of the New York Yankees, but I am concerned about the potential he does not sign until late January. The Yankees have an urgent need for an elite starting pitcher, particularly with the looming free agencies of James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka next fall, and good starting pitchers are starting to come off the board rapidly. If the Yankees only signed someone like Madison Bumgarner, I’d be happy with the off-season, but there’s no question the drop-off from Cole to Bumgarner is huge. The longer this goes on, the less likely someone like even MadBum is available. There’s the trade route, but I’d say that I am hot and cold about a guy such as Corey Kluber. I know when healthy, he is one of the game’s best but he will also turn 34 early next season. Cole is 29 and won’t turn 30 until next September. I want a pitcher in his prime, not one that is riding the tail end of it.

Yankee fans have loved to talk about Luis Castillo of the Cincinnati Reds and Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox, but both of those teams are improving with solid young teams and would be foolish to part with their potential aces. People like to laugh about the failed attempts of the White Sox to land premium free agents, other than the recently signed catcher Yasmani Grandal, but their farm system is ready to produce great young talent for the Major League team and they are on the cusp of winning. Once they start to win, they’ll become a more attractive destination for premier free agents. Giolito is such a big part of the coming force, same with Castillo in Cincy.

If the Yankees do sign Gerrit Cole, we can drop the narrative that Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner is cheap. If he was cheap, we would have been the team chasing guys like Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles (with no offense to the Texas Rangers as those guys will help them break in their new stadium) and not an elite talent like Gerrit Cole. Yankee fans are short-sighted (sorry, but, generally speaking, we are). Thankfully, the Steinbrenner Family and GM Brian Cashman have the long-view in mind. If Cole signs, we will be rewarded for their patient approach.

I’d like to see the Yankees bring the Cole negotiations to an end next week. I know it’s not the Scott Boras way, but it seems like the two sides can get together to produce numbers that work for both sides. I am hopeful for quick resolution so the Yankees can move on to other pressing needs.

If Cole does become a Yankee, I think Luke Voit should give up #45. Voit has no other connection with the number other than his short tenure with the Yankees. He was #40 in St Louis and as we know, he’s not getting that number. Frankly, there’s been some good numbers come available recently (namely 22, 30, and 33) and there are a couple that might be available in the coming days (18 and 28). If I was Voit, I’d take 22, 28, or 30. Those seem like better “power” numbers for a muscular first baseman anyway. Personally I like 22, even if I couldn’t stand the last guy who wore it and still harbor resentment against a certain Texas right-hander that once wore the number. Surprisingly, I think of former Yankees center fielder Jerry Mumphrey when it comes to number 22.

The Winter Meetings begin tomorrow in San Diego. I doubt we’ll see much activity on Sunday. Many are traveling, including Aaron Boone. By next Thursday, we’ll know if this has been truly the most active off-season in recent memory or if it is another case of all talk and no action. Up to this point, it has been more active. It feels like there are a few major moves ready to break so we’ll soon see.  I am sure the days will fly by next week as we wait with anticipation. Sadly, when Thursday arrives and the meetings conclude, there may be a few Yankee prospects headed to other camps courtesy of the Rule 5 Draft. I think we’ll lose the defensively gifted infielder Kyle Holder among the possibilities. The Yankees will be in the market for an infielder if Didi Gregorius signs elsewhere (looking more and more like he is going to join Joe Girardi in Philadelphia). His departure will make Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada as the likely choice to make the roster as backup shortstop behind Gleyber Torres. It seems like the Yankees will bring another body in Spring Training to strengthen the competition. So, I am expecting a minor trade or signing for an infielder at the very least.

We also need another strong arm for the bullpen with the potential departure of Dellin Betances.  Betances, like Gregorius, is rumored as a potential option for Girardi and the Phillies. I guess that would be better than Dellin going cross-town to join the Mets. If Dellin leaves, I’d personally prefer to see him to go the Los Angeles Dodgers. My preference, however, is for Dellin to stay. I think of the free agents (Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, and Betances), Dellin is the one I want to stay the most even if he is still recovering from the Achilles injury. But at this moment in time, from the outside looking in, it appears the only probably returnee will be Brett Gardner. I love Didi, but I’ve accepted the Yankees will be moving on. I just hope the Yankees extend D.J. LeMahieu if they decide to let Didi walk. As a pending free agent, I’d hate to be back searching for a quality second baseman again like we were after Robinson Cano left if LeMachine leaves after next season.  The matter is moot if the Yankees were to acquire Francisco Lindor, but I think the Dodgers are a more likely destination for the Tribe’s ultra-talented shortstop. I liked the job Austin Romine did for the Yankees, but I think the team goes with the cheaper Kyle Higashioka to back up Gary Sanchez. Higgy also seems like a perfect student for catching coordinator Tanner Swanson with his superior framing skills. I’d hate to see Romine join his father’s old club (Red Sox) so I am hopeful if he leaves, he goes home to sunny Southern California.

I wonder if we’ll hear about the next destination for former Yankees bench coach Josh Bard. He left his position with the Yankees in November to pursue jobs closer to his Colorado home, but I’ve not heard any updates. It seems weird that his departure has been so quiet and that he did not have an immediate job to go to. I am glad to see the elevation of infield/quality control coach Carlos Mendoza to bench coach. He has been a very loyal employee of the Yankees organization for a long time and it’s good to see recognition for the excellent work he has done. Hopefully his partnership with Boone will be as strong as the Boone-Bard connection (or better).

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Photo Credit: AP

Lastly, we’ll hear tomorrow who has been elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame by the Modern Baseball Era Committee. The candidates are Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons and Lou Whitaker. Sadly, I’ve come to the realization that it is probable neither Munson nor Mattingly will receive at least 75% of the vote. It’s sad for me. Growing up watching Munson, he was such a wonderful player to follow and admire before his tragic death at age 32. To me, he was the heart and soul of those championship clubs in the ‘70’s. Contrary to Reggie Jackson’s words, I always felt that Thurman was the straw that stirred the drink. He was easily my favorite player as a kid. I always wondered if the 1981 World Series would have had a different outcome if Thurman had lived. His passion to be the best was so strong. I keep hoping that they’ll elect Thurman to the Hall, but, disappointingly, I do not think it will happen. I hope I am wrong. It would be great to see the former Yankees captain join another recent Yankees captain for the induction ceremony next summer in Cooperstown, New York.

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Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

Buckle up, the Winter Meetings are about to start. This should be fun.

As always, Go Yankees!

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