Gerrit Cole is coming off the greatest season of his career, and one of the most truly dominant seasons we’ve seen in recent years. The guy had 326 strikeouts! That’s the most in baseball since Randy Johnson in 2002, and it’s worth pointing out that Johnson threw nearly 50 more innings than Cole did. A narrow runner-up for the American League Cy Young Award, Cole is only 29 years old, was masterful in his final World Series start and can be breathtaking to watch. He’s about to make himself a lot of money, and he will be worth it.
Every team wants a Gerrit Cole, but only one can get him. So we introduce the Gerrit Cole Suitor Power Rankings, a semi-regular feature in which we break down the contenders for each of the major free agents by likelihood they’ll end up getting him. Some of this will be driven by rumors, which you can find all over MLB.com, but we’ll try to keep our eyes on the larger prize here: What’s likeliest, and makes the most sense, to end up happening? Where’s he going to end up? This ranking attempts to combine all of the factors.
Here are Cole’s current power rankings:
The Dodgers have spent the last few years being smart and prudent and efficient with their spending, bringing in strategically selected free agents, promoting top prospects and re-signing their old players. They haven’t made that massive free-agent splash. But it’s one thing to lose two straight World Series. It’s another thing to fall out in the National League Division Series. Nothing would signal “let’s get this done this time, right now” more than signing Cole, who is, of course, a Southern California native and would be an incredible addition to a staff that already has Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. (And maybe Hyun-Jin Ryu, if they re-sign him.) The Dodgers have the stature, they have the need, and they have the urgency. We probably don’t need to overcomplicate this.
Well, they are the Yankees, so they’re always going to be high on any list of suitors for the top free agents. But it’s more than that. The Yankees had only one real hole last year, but it was a big one: They didn’t have that dominant No. 1 starter. Cole was terrific against them in the American League Championship Series, so they were able to see up close what they were lacking. Putting Cole atop their rotation gives the Yankees an imposing force to build the rest of their staff around. If they can have better injury luck than they did last year (and how could they not?), they could be even better in 2020. And come postseason they have their Roger Clemens for Game 1 … and potentially Game 7. The Yankees are going to come at Cole hard.
Cole is from Southern California, but, more granularly, he’s from Orange County. That’s handy, because that’s where the Angels play! More to the point: When you persuade the best player in baseball to sign with your team for the next 11 years, you owe it to him and your fans to make sure you put a great team around him. Considering that last year was the Angels’ worst winning percentage of the Mike Trout era, they are rather far from that right now. And Cole immediately solves their biggest problem, which is a severely lacking rotation. Oh, and owner Arte Moreno says payroll is “going up next year.” There’s no better reason for payroll to go up than signing Gerrit Cole.
It feels like there’s a drop-off after those first three: They’re the heavy favorites. But the Phillies are the clear next team up. They’ve shown a willingness to spend, they have huge holes in the rotation and they’ve signaled that they plan to go after him. But Cole is a Californian and is said to prefer playing there. He certainly could be talked into pitching in the northeast if the offer is right, but are the Phillies really going to outbid the Yankees if that happens? One thing is certain: After signing Bryce Harper last offseason, the Phillies definitely have agent Scott Boras’ phone number.
If there’s a wild-card team that might be willing to go over the top out of nowhere for Cole, maybe it’s the Rangers. They’re opening a new stadium, they have a plenty of offense and they have two solid pieces already in their rotation in Lance Lynn and Mike Minor. The Rangers have not spent much on big-time free agents in recent years, but they’ve signaled they’re willing to this year. Could Cole get this year’s version of the A-Rod Rangers contract? It might require that to get him to come here.
Other potential teams
The possibilities (and why they’re unlikely):
Astros: Considering he basically tore off his Astros jersey the second Houston lost Game 7 of the World Series, he looks ready to move on.
Braves: They have the need, but are they willing to go over the top deep into the future?
Cardinals: They are payroll stretched already, or at least they say they are.
Mets: He’d be a blast there: Imagine him and Jacob deGrom in the same rotation! But this is … not the Mets’ M.O. of late.
Padres: They’re SoCal, and they’re always looking to make a splash. They’ve already hinted they’re out, though.
White Sox: A better fit than you might think, but if they fell short on Manny Machado, it’s hard not to see them falling way short here.