SAN DIEGO - Stephen Strasburg’s record $245 million contract with the Nationals didn’t last long. That’s because the New York Yankees are back. They’ve shed their conservative financial image.
The Yankees signed free-agent starter Gerrit Cole to richest contract ever given to a pitcher - nine years and $324 million - late Tuesday night at the Winter Meetings. Cole’s average salary is $36 million, also a record, beating Zack Greinke’s $34.4 million.
Cole’s yearly average is higher than that of Mike Trout, who makes $35.5 million a year from the Angels.
The Yankees won 103 games last season and lost to Cole and the Astros in the American League Championship Series. New York hasn’t been to a World Series since 2009.
Last season, they had a strong bullpen, offense and defense, but their rotation was always a question, especially with a 4.51 ERA.
Lefty James Paxton and right-hander Luis Severino lead New York’s rotation. Paxton was inconsistent last season, his first with the Yankees after coming over from the Mariners in a trade, and Severino, projected to be their future ace, spent most of last season on the injured list.
Masahiro Tanaka had elbow surgery in the offseason, but is expected to be at full strength when spring training begins. Major League Baseball is investigating domestic-abuse allegations against Domingo Germán. J.A. Happ struggled last year, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone says adjustments will make him a steady force in the rotation again.
This is the third time the Yankees tried to get Cole, who grew up in Southern California. The Yankees drafted him out of high school, but he chose to go to UCLA. Cole started his career with Pittsburgh, and the Yankees tried to trade for him before the Astros worked out a deal with the Pirates.
Last season, Cole finished second in the American League Cy Young Award voting to his Astros teammate Justin Verlander, even though Cole he had a 1.59 ERA with 258 strikeouts from May 22 on.
For the season, he had 326 strikeouts with a 0.89 WHIP. Including the 2019 postseason, Cole had 24 wins, a 2.39 ERA and 373 strikeouts.
Boone and the Yankees’ brass met with Cole and Strasburg and came away impressed. The Yankees reminded Cole that he was a big Yankees fan, especially in 2003, when Boone played for the Yankees and hit a pennant-winning home run in Yankee Stadium.
Asked whether that came up in the meeting, Boone answered that it might have.
Boone said he believes that Cole can handle the expectations that go with big contracts in New York.
“I feel like Gerrit’s understanding of who he is and why he’s great and how he’s able to talk about it is impressive,’’ Boone said late Tuesday afternoon during his press conference.
The Angels and Dodgers were reportedly in on Cole, with the Dodgers dreaming of a rotation that would have had Cole, Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw.
The Angels have pitchers Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and a list of prospects. They have traded for the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy. But, the Angels are in need or more than one pitcher if new manager Joe Maddon is going to turn them into contenders.
“There’s no secret,’’ Maddon says. “You can’t win if you don’t have starting pitching.’‘
Now, the question: Who gets Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu? And, how much will teams have to pay, given Strasburg’s and Cole’s latest contracts?
The Dodgers are talking to Bumgarner, 30, who had a 3.90 ERA last season after two seasons of injuries in 2017 and 2018.
But after helping the Dodgers’ biggest rival in San Francisco win three World Series, would Bumgarner consider wearing Dodger blue? Would signing in Los Angeles tarnish his legacy with the Giants?
Many teams are looking for pitching, including the Astros, who are seeking a replacement for Cole. The question: Will MLB’s investigation into the Astros’ alleged sign-stealing make it more difficult for Houston to sign top-notch talent?
The Padres are looking for pitching. They’ve beefed up their offense and are looking for an experienced pitcher to lead their young staff.
The Twins have kept Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda and could be a landing spot for Bumgarner or Ryu, who would join a rotation that also has Jose Berríos.
In Chicago, the White Sox are saying they can turn into contenders next season. They actually outbid the Phillies for pitcher Zack Wheeler.
The general consensus was that Bumgarner would end up signing with Atlanta, so that he’d be closer to home. But he’s also said he’s interested in returning to San Francisco, even though the Giants are an aging, financial mess.
A surprise team? Yes, of course, there could be.
The last day of the Winter Meetings will bring intrigue.