New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole signed a record nine-year, $324 million contract after the 2019 season and still owns the largest ever contract for a starting pitcher. In fact, only a few position players (Aaron Judge and Mike Trout) have him beat.
He's only bested by Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander from an AAV perspective, but that only matters if you're looking to nitpick. Cole's deal was a landmark one, and won't be toppled for quite some time.
That's why it's a bit puzzling Yankees fans are concerned about the right-hander's opt-out clause following the 2024 season. That's in two full years! Cole will have four years and $144 million remaining on his deal entering his age-34 season.
There are two reasons Cole might consider such a move, which we'd still determine as extremely unlikely. The first is that teams pay a premium for starting pitchers, especially ones with a similar body of work to Cole's. The second is that all he needs is a World Series run to grow his value, and he's theoretically in one of the best places and positions to accomplish just that within the next two years.
But looking at how Cole's career has transpired ever since joining the Yankees, it's hard to believe there'd be an insanely robust market for him if he continues on this trajectory the next couple of years. Since the start of 2020, the right-hander is a relatively underwhelming 36-19 with a 3.28 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 1.02 WHIP and 594 strikeouts (OK, that's amazing) in 75 starts (455 innings).
Yankees Rumors: Will Gerrit Cole opt out of his contract after 2024?
The last two full seasons, Cole's ranked outside of the top 15 starting pitchers in MLB in both ERA and FIP. He was outside the top 10 in WHIP. He led the AL in home runs allowed last year and surrendered 24 the year prior (same as Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner and Nick Pivetta).
Cole's postseason numbers are good (2.93 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 134 strikeouts in 17 starts), but he has lost five win-or-go-home games, and he's only advanced to the World Series at the expense of a choke artist Yankees team in 2019. During his career in New York, while we're not exactly complaining, he's only triumphed against the Rays and Guardians in the postseason. Not the best.
Then again, Scherzer and Verlander both had poor/underhwlming postseason reputations for the most part until their runs in 2019 and 2022. Like we said, all it'll take from Cole is a monster October run to flip the script.
But even then, will he leave that much guaranteed money on the table? If you look at the career arcs of Scherzer and Verlander, Cole could play out his deal, hit free agency at 38 years old, and, assuming he's still performing at a high level, still rake in a short-term, high-AAV contract, similar to the ones that the two aces got from the Mets the last two years. Is he going to exit his current record-setting contract to tack on 2-3 extra years or $8-10 million AAV?
Sure, it's possible. He's a client of Scott Boras. But the risk there seems to far outweigh the reward. Think about it. Steve Cohen, the richest owner in the sport, outbid everybody beneath him to create new salary benchmarks for starting pitchers in order to acquire Scherzer and Verlander. The Rangers, desperate to upgrade their pitching staff, gave deGrom $37 million per year hoping that he returns to being the best pitcher in all of baseball.
There are only a few teams -- those that have infinite funds and others dying to make a splash -- that would even consider such a risky addition. Unless there's another bonafide contender out there willing to give Cole a second long-term contract that bests what's left on his pact with the Yankees by another $80-$100 million, it's hard to envision the veteran joining a stacked free agency class that'll include Corbin Burnes, Max Fried, Walker Buehler, Tyler Glasnow, Lance Lynn, Zack Wheeler and others.
He could! He very well could. But we doubt it. And we're certainly not going to worry about it before the start of the 2023 season.