Should Yankees fans worry about Gerrit Cole’s opt out clause?

Yes, this is the portion of the MLB lockout where we start worrying about the 2025 New York Yankees.

It is what it is. Don’t try and stop us.

When the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a record-setting contract prior to the 2020 season, much of the surrounding discourse involved doing whatever it took to secure the righty’s services and make sure he would never be a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim. That meant breaking the bank and “overpaying” (whether you like the Cole deal or not, they certainly went above market). It also meant providing the ace with an opportunity to opt out of his contract and seek greener pastures, should he so choose.

You know, like all the cool kids are doing.

The Yankees, in order to minimize the sweat surrounding the decision, managed to negotiate the first opt-out all the way until after Year 5; Cole won’t have to make his decision until the 2024 season has wrapped.

The right-hander seems comfortable in pinstripes. He certainly spun a convincing “Coming Home” narrative prior to the 2020 season, only to see the momentum of his storytelling blunted by an unforeseen pandemic.

But what would have to happen for him to entertain shedding the final four seasons of his mammoth contract? Unfortunately for us worrywarts out there, it would probably look a lot like the idealized version of the next three seasons.

Yankees Gerrit Cole contract details and opt-out

If Cole does exercise his opt-out after 2024, the Yankees baked in the option to counter with an additional year at $36 million, though that probably won’t do New York any good. If he’s choosing to leave, he’s throwing four $36 million years away, so we’re not sure what a single year would do to placate him.

On the surface, it seems very unlikely Cole would want to risk hitting the open market, begging someone to exceed $36 million in compensation for his age 34 to 37 seasons. Again, it would have to involve a superhuman effort from 2022-2024 … which just so happens to be exactly what we’re all rooting for here on the East Coast.

In essence, three consecutive years of That One Astros Game would do it.

The only fly in the ointment is … perhaps the leaks start to come with increasing frequency. Perhaps the Yankees don’t pivot after the MLB Lockout ends and start signing stars and making transactions left and right. Perhaps they don’t surround Cole with the requisite talent, and instead start regressing and regretting the contract they doled out to him in the first place, making his life miserable by strategically revealing his awkward moments like the Brett Gardner prank.

If Cole dominates and the Yankees provide him support, he’ll probably stay, unable to top the agreed-upon figures. If he slips, he’s not leaving $36 million AAV on the table.

But if he performs like his did in 2021 three consecutive times — a legitimate top-two Cy Young finish, but with an October failure, leading to headline after pointless headline and front-office whining — then he might have a case to exit stage right and be happier elsewhere, even if that means fewer dollars in his pocket.