Yankees choosing Gerrit Cole over Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon looks even better

The Yankees sunk their high-priced free agent coin into the right basket.

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers
New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers / Duane Burleson/GettyImages

While the Yankees certainly should've done more in the 2019-20 offseason after landing Gerrit Cole as their centerpiece, there's now a clear silver lining to their hesitancy to spend: if they'd tried to pull off a 2009-style coup, it would've been a disaster.

This is not to say that the Yankees have a perfect record of decision-making. In fact, nearly everything they've attempted to pull off to expand Cole's championship window (short of extending Aaron Judge) has been an Angels-level disaster. Even the universe has conspired against Cole and the Yanks; his first year in pinstripes was sliced into thirds by a global pandemic.

As Year 4 approaches its conclusion, the Yankees will likely be out of the playoffs and relying on an (admittedly exciting) youth movement to propel them forward in 2024. But, even without a ring in New York, Cole's situation -- Cy Young-contending ace on the team of his boyhood dreams -- places him leaps and bounds beyond the rest of the cream of that free agent crop.

In the end, Cole was always fated to be a Yankee long before David Cone delivered him his favorite bottle of wine on that fateful California night. But if the Yankees had struck out James Dolan-style or wanted to create a 1-2 punch, they might've opted for '19 World Series hero Stephen Strasburg, who retired from the game a few weeks ago, unable to shake off the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. His case is extreme; the Washington Post reported he now struggles to open doors or hold his daughter with his right hand due to nerve damage. Strasburg's is a tragic ending, but the eight starts he made in Washington from 2020-22 easily could've come in pinstripes if his tale had been told slightly differently.

Yankees picked Gerrit Cole over Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon in 2019 free agent class

What if the Yankees had opted to add offense to Cole's contract? Fellow 2019 National Anthony Rendon seemed like a fine place to start. Paired with Juan Soto in the heart of Washington's order, he punished the Astros time and again during the Fall Classic, drilling a pair of homers and driving in eight in Washington's seven-game triumph. He'd just stared the Yankees' enemy in the face and spit in it. Outbidding the Angels for his services was certainly possible.

Except ... it's now painfully obvious the money ticketed for Rendon should've been used on three or four pieces (or, at the very least, a different mega-deal meant for someone who actually wants to play). Rendon has participated in 58, 47 and 43 games the past three seasons. He posted an OPS+ mark of 157 during that gilded season in '19, then 150 in a shortened 2020, then ... 94, 99 and 86. He's currently hobbled by a shin issue, and is running around clubhouses across the country, pretending not to speak English when pressed on his recovery timeline. Having Rendon under contract might be the only way the Yankees could've done worse than Josh Donaldson since 2022, and he was staring them in the face following Gio Urshela's breakout season.

No matter what happens from this point forward, the Yankees have emphatically chosen the top name in the trio. Their only remaining concern is how to flesh out the roster around Cole, not how to deal with two additional non-participatory albatrosses (one with an attitude problem).

Oh, and that pesky opt-out clause, too.