HOUSTON -- As expected, free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole turned down the Astros’ $17.8-million qualifying offer for 2020 on Thursday, leaving him free to sign with any club, including the Astros. With Cole rejecting the offer, the Astros will receive a compensatory Draft pick next year if he signs with another team.
Cole is hitting free agency at 29 years old after a career-best season in which he finished a close second in the American League Cy Young Award vote to teammate Justin Verlander. He will be one of the most coveted players on the free-agent market this offseason and could be in line for a record-breaking deal for a pitcher.
Giving Cole a qualifying offer was a procedural move by the Astros for a player of his stature, allowing Houston to either retain Cole for one season or get a Draft pick if he signs with another club.
If a player rejects the qualifying offer and signs with another club, the club he left will receive Draft pick compensation and the club that signs him will forfeit a Draft pick, and in some cases multiple picks. The value of those picks varies based on whether or not the clubs receive (or pay into) revenue sharing and whether or not the player’s new contract exceeds $50 million. Players who reject a qualifying offer are still free to negotiate a new deal -- for one or more years -- with their original team.
“The competition for all the pitchers is very aggressive, probably the most aggressive I’ve seen,” Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, said Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We have really quality pitchers in the marketplace.”
Astros owner Jim Crane said last week that the club would “take a run” at re-signing Cole, and the Astros and Cole’s representatives met during the GM Meetings. Houston’s projected payroll for next season is already around the luxury tax threshold of $208 million, which will make it difficult to take another large contract.
“We’ll stick our nose in there and see where we’re at and see what we can go with Gerrit,” Crane said on Nov. 4. “He did a great job and had a great year and pitched well in the playoffs. Either way, I wish him the best of luck. He’s been a great asset for the team.”
Cole is coming off a season in which he went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts and a 0.89 WHIP in 212 1/3 innings pitched. He went 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA in his final 22 starts, with the Astros winning each of his final 13.
Verlander and Cole finished first or second on all 30 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in the AL Cy Young Award voting, with Verlander taking 17 first-place votes for 171 points and Cole netting 13 first-place votes for 159 points.
“Houston is a place where you’re around great players, great friends,” Boras said. “You’re around a winning environment. To spend a couple of years there in that place was very rewarding to him. Obviously, the last game was a big disappointment for everyone there, but I think he really enjoyed his time, enjoyed his teammates. And the ownership treated him well. He has a very positive feel about Houston.”