John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In the end, the Yankees wanted to leave no doubt. Though they've operated with an unusual level of fiscal restraint in recent years, their addition of Gerrit Cole late Tuesday night was a reminder that when they want a free agent, nobody else really stands a chance.
The Angels and Dodgers both wanted Cole badly as well, yet the Yankees blew them away with their financial might, locking up the superstar pitcher to a nine-year, $324 million contract, which was miles ahead of the other offers.
The contract numbers are staggering, never mind record-breaking for a pitcher, and yet for the Yankees, who are all about winning championships, the signing makes a lot of sense.
They had gone 10 seasons without a title, practically a lifetime for them. And they're a win-now team, after reaching the postseason the last three years, with Cole filling their void of an ace that could be the last piece they need.
In that sense it was something of a perfect storm for Cole, all the more so because the Yankees had been chasing him for 11 years, failing to sign him after making him their first-round draft choice in 2008, when he decided to attend UCLA, and then missing out on a chance to trade for him two years ago when the Pirates dealt him to the Astros.
In fact, at the Winter Meetings earlier Tuesday, Brian Cashman had told reporters that in his meeting last week with Cole he told the pitcher, "You're my white whale."
Their desire surely intensified upon seeing Cole blossom after coming to the Astros in that trade with the Pirates, as technology and analytics helped him change his pitch selection and raise his game to a spectacular level of dominance, racking up a whopping 326 strikeouts in 212 innings.
So now, finally, there should be no more worrying about the Yankees' starting pitching. With Cole as the ace, plus their loaded bullpen and their powerful offense, they'll be big favorites to win it all next season.
In recent years the Yankees had tried to win a title by building the best bullpen in baseball, but while they fell short they watched teams like the Astros, the Red Sox, and the Nationals all lean heavily on strong starting pitching to win championships.
To understand just what Cole's presence could mean, in fact, it's worth noting the Yankees haven't even had a starting pitcher throw 200 innings since Huroki Kuroda did it in 2013.
Meanwhile, Cole's departure is a blow to the Astros, and the arch-rival Red Sox seem to be most concerned with lowering their payroll going into next season.
All of this will pile huge expectations on Cole next season, but people who know him believe he's got the right amount of self-confidence, perhaps even the right amount of cockiness, to handle the New York factor.
That and Cole's pitching intellect were two factors that further convinced the Yankees he was the right guy at the right time for an organization that has just overhauled their pitching department to become even more analytically-oriented and cutting-edge in terms of technology.
And while writing the biggest check was surely the most important factor in landing Cole, they believed all along they could sell him on the advantages they had to offer beyond the money, both obvious and not-so-obvious.
The obvious is the opportunity to win championships, something Cole figured to be hungry for after falling just short with the Astros last season. The not-so-obvious is Cole's intelligence about his craft, and the way he embraced the analytics with the Astros that helped transform him into such a dominant force the last two seasons.
"Around the game people know that he's a very cerebral guy when it comes to pitching," said one Yankees' person. "He loves to talk about pitch selection, about how to go about setting up hitters and then putting them away.
"He embraced the changes they recommended in Houston. He stopped throwing his two-seamer so much and went to his four-seamer up in the strike zone. He threw his breaking stuff more too and he turned into a monster."
In addition, people who know Cole say he has always been something of a deep thinker, and after the Astros opened the right-hander's eyes to the benefits of a high-tech organization, the Yankees believe their own organizational changes on that front could be a factor in selling him on the pinstripes.
The plan was to sell that hard with the new pitching coach," the Yankee source said.
That would be Matt Blake, who was hired to replace Larry Rothschild as part of Cashman's ongoing overhaul of the pitching department. Last June Cashman hired Sam Briend from Driveline Baseball to be the new analytically-oriented Director of Pitching, and Blake comes with similar credentials, which include recognition for helping get the most out of the likes of Trevor Bauer, Shane Bieber, and Mike Clevinger in his position as developmental pitching coach with the Indians.
Presumably Blake made it clear in the meeting with Cole that the Yankees are now on the same cutting edge as the Astros, which may have played some role in the pitcher's decision.
But let's not pretend the money didn't get the deal done. For all the talk of wanting to play near his home in southern California, Cole essentially showed his hand when he couldn't wait to put the Boras Corp. cap on minutes after losing the World Series, convincing baseball people he would go to the highest bidder.
That's exactly what he did late Tuesday night, as the Yankees' monstrous offer made it easy for him to say yes to pitching in the Bronx.