The Yankees tried to knock out their last playoff. After losing in six games in the American League Championship Series – the third time in five seasons that the Houston Astros had led them off the stage – they insisted on being strong enough to win.
"Was that roster championship caliber?" Said General Manager Brian Cashman a few days after the defeat, which sent the World Series to another location on October 10 in a row. "The answer to that is yes, and I won't lose sight of that in my conversations with the owner and my recommendation on where to go."
Cashman never wants to look desperate. It's the worst kind of bargaining position, and the Yankees have won 100 games in consecutive seasons. With a few more timely hits in October, they could have won the pennant.
But Yankees fans don't want to hear about 100 winning seasons that end without a parade. They remember being shut down by others: Dallas Keuchel in 2015, Justin Verlander in 2017, Gerrit Cole in 2019. It's time to get your own lockdown ace.
The Yankees seem to recognize this urgency in their promotion of Cole, 29, the free agent right-hander who went 24-6 with a earned run average of 2.39 and 373 strikes last year, including the off-season. This is their third pursuit of him in three different forums and the environment in which they are likely to have the most control and the best chance of success.
she Cole was drafted in the first round of 2008, but was told that no amount of money could stop him from joining U.C.L.A. They made a trade offer for Cole to the Pittsburgh pirates before the 2018 season, but when they held on to third baseman Miguel Andujar, the pirates opted for the Astros offer instead.
Now the Yankees are trying again in free hand. You met with Cole in California, where he lives, and introduced him to some people who could predict his life in pinstripes: Cashman; Manager Aaron Boone; Michael Fishman, the data-conscious deputy general manager; Matt Blake, the new pitching trainer; and Andy Pettitte, the five-time Yankees champion (and former Astro) who thrived in the Bronx spotlight.
Cole's affection for the Yankees is well known. During the 2001 World Series in Arizona, The Star-Ledger ran a photo of him at the age of 11 with a sign that read "Yankee Fan Today Tomorrow Forever". In June, Cole watched the Yankees' classic car game from the top tier of the Astros shelter. He beamed after meeting Chris Chambliss – "A U.C.L.A. Yankee! "He said.
While the Bruins' appeal prevented the Yankees from poaching Cole from high school, they had long viewed Cole's drafting as a long-term investment as they started to forge a bond and parted on good terms. Cashman alluded to this when he spoke to reporters in Stamford, Connecticut on Friday before rappelling the Landmark Building as part of the city's festival.
“Different members of our franchise – Damon Oppenheimer is still our scouting director. He and some of our employees had the opportunity to meet Gerrit Cole because we drew him a long time ago, ”said Cashman. "Some of our people already know Gerrit Cole personally and him and his parents."
Cashman also expected to say that the Yankees had enjoyed meeting with Cole and Stephen Strasburg, another elite free agent starter represented by Scott Boras.
"You see them carve lineups, but you never get a chance to know the person better," said Cashman. “So in both cases they are really good, sincere people, good family members. Despite their competitive nature, if they have the ball on the hill every five days, you realize that in a real clubhouse they would fit everyone in a positive way. "
Friendliness and comfort are necessary factors in the free hand, but the highest bid is almost always the most important. The Yankees understand that signing Cole requires more than the biggest guarantee ever given to a pitcher – David Price's $ 217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox before the 2016 season – and possibly more as Zack Greinke's record $ 34.4 million annual pitcher salary.
Their main competitor appears to be the teams closest to Cole's home: the Angels, who play about five miles from Cole's high school in Orange, California, and the Dodgers. Cole told the Yankees that geography is a factor, but not a deal breaker. The real difference maker will most likely be the despair of the teams involved.
The Dodgers haven't won the World Series since 1988, but they already have the majors' best pitching staff (a league low of 3.37 ERA last season) and may need another Boras customer, the third baseman Anthony Rendon.
The angels have hired a prominent new manager, Joe Maddon has reportedly learned of his drug abuse after a devastating season in which pitcher Tyler Skaggs died from a drug overdose in July. The Angels have the best baseball player, Mike Trout, but haven't won a playoff game in his eight-year career. Last season there wasn't a single pitcher that made 20 starts.
The Angels also have a general manager – Billy Eppler, a former Cashman protégé – whose contract expires after 2020 and an owner, Arte Moreno, who has previously overwhelmed free agents with huge deals. But will the folly of his deals hold back Moreno for Albert Pujols (10 years, $ 240 million) and Josh Hamilton (5 years, $ 125 million)?
The Yankees have to hope because their own motivation is obvious. A move from Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and James Paxton, supported by a dominant bullpen and strong lineup, could take A.L.'s balance of power from Houston to New York.
After a lackluster mid-decade, the Yankees expanded their farm system, took control of their payroll (relatively speaking), and resumed their annual visits in the off-season. Now comes the next step for her, Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson in the 1970s and C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira in 2009: the brave free agent snapshot that they and their competitors use to learn that the Yankees are really, really everyone.
James Wagner contributed to the reporting.