Yankees: Was signing Gerrit Cole to record contract a mistake?

Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees reacts in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on August 31, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees reacts in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on August 31, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Gerrit Cole was knocked around in yet another start for the Yankees.

Woah! WOAH! How DARE you write such a provoking headline, you hack! The New York Yankees needed an ace this offseason, it was their missing World Series piece! How could you even suggest such a thing?! There are already people weeping over this, further proving they didn’t read past the headline. Welcome to America in 2020, folks! You can convince people of anything or get a rise out of them in 10 words.

Well, guess what? Gerrit Cole now owns a 3.91 ERA, has taken back-to-back losses (after a 28-game unbeaten streak!), and has surrendered the most home runs in the American League (12). In Monday night’s loss to the Rays, he allowed four earned runs on eight hits and four walks.

These are very, very bad statistics when you consider he was given a nine-year, $324 million contract. That’s $36 million per season to be the team’s ace.

Cole is eight starts into his Yankees tenure and, admittedly, it’s under tough circumstances. It’s a shortened 60-game season due to the pandemic; there have been beyond lofty expectations placed on the three-time All-Star; and the offense has done him zero favors his last three times out (though he dug himself into a hole before they could even help).

Also, he got off to a pretty slow start with the Houston Astros last year, then rebounded to nearly win the AL Cy Young. Something to consider, for sure.

That’s a 4.17 ERA through eight starts compared to his 3.91 mark this time around. The difference here, however, is that he allowed four fewer homers this time last year and had one disastrous eight-earned-run outing that really inflated his ERA. Nonetheless, his slow start in 2019 is hardly the issue.

Also, one important note … the Astros didn’t give Cole $324 million. They traded a load of whatever prospects for him and expected him to play second fiddle to Justin Verlander. He made just over $20 million during his time with the Astros. The scenario and circumstances were different.

Let’s look at his two seasons in Houston. He was backed by the league’s best offense and wasn’t exactly the go-to guy in the rotation. Last year he was accompanied by Verlander and Zack Greinke (who was there for the second half the season) and the year prior it was Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton. It’s a lot easier to perform to your fullest potential when the pressure is limited. Now he’s on the biggest stage possible and the lone workhorse ace with Masahiro Tanaka behind him (also a very good pitcher, but not a Verlander, Greinke or Morton).

Not only that, but there was talk about the Astros doctoring baseballs to improve their pitchers’ spin rates. Was that true? We don’t know, but the numbers from this year, according to Baseball Savant, prove that his spin rate hasn’t changed much since 2018. So if they did doctor the balls, we guess the Yankees are doing it too. Regardless, moot point. Just thought we’d address before people started asking about that.

A big factor could be Cole eliminating his sinker. He’s now strictly a four-pitch guy, and though he only threw his sinker 80 times last year, that’s still around 2.5 times per game, so it was at least in the back of the hitters’ minds.

Then again, he had that sinker and heaving used it during his time with the Pirates, and he wasn’t exactly great with them. We don’t think you’d anoint someone an ace with a 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 734 strikeouts across 127 starts (782.1 innings). He had one ace-like year in 2015 with a 2.60 ERA in 32 starts, but didn’t come close to replicating that in Pittsburgh.

Then, he went to Houston, and dominated, though under very favorable circumstances, which we just outlined. The Astros coaching staff certainly helped him harness his true abilities, but is two straight years of that worth $36 million per season for almost an entire decade?

Honestly, we don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. The Yankees needed a No. 1 starter and Cole was there for the taking. They had no choice. It all lined up, and if a deal wasn’t done, the fanbase would have unequivocally rioted. And at the end of the day, it’s not our money! Plus, $36 million four years from now might seem like a bargain with costs rising exponentially each offseason.

However, it’s not farfetched to simply ponder if this was just bad timing, especially after the Yanks passed on Max Scherzer and Jon Lester and opted not to trade for Verlander in previous years.

Is Cole going to be a trainwreck for the Yankees? Absolutely not. He’s going to be fine! But it’s quite possible he’s not that bonafide No. 1 guy they truly need — we don’t know, we have yet to see it over a long period of time, and the tenure is not off to the start we needed to quell our worries. He wasn’t that in Houston (it was Verlander), and he was hardly that in Pittsburgh. In seven big-league seasons prior to coming to New York, he had three Cy Young-caliber campaigns. The other four weren’t close (though one was a very good rookie year).

What’s even worse? The crosstown Mets have Jacob deGrom, probably the best pitcher in baseball, signed to a $137.5 million contract (though over five years), which is $174 million cheaper than Cole. And Yankees fans aren’t going to hear the end of that if Cole doesn’t quickly overtake the throne in New York City.

Here’s to hoping the next nine years with Gerrit Cole are among the most memorable in Yankees history and he brings home another ring for his childhood team. The fans are dying for that to be the case (so are we!!). However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address why this record-setting contract (by $79 million, mind you — Stephen Strasburg has a $245 million deal) could potentially end up not yielding the results the Yankees and their fans were hoping for.