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Can this team afford 2 elite free-agent pitchers?

November 19, 2019

Following five solid seasons with the Pirates in which he was an All-Star and finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2015, Gerrit Cole reached an elite level over two seasons with the Astros. He is tied to Draft-pick compensation if he signs with a new team after

Following five solid seasons with the Pirates in which he was an All-Star and finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2015, Gerrit Cole reached an elite level over two seasons with the Astros. He is tied to Draft-pick compensation if he signs with a new team after being one of 10 players to receive the $17.8 million qualifying offer.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the 29-year-old right-hander, who is now a free agent.

Could Angels sign both Cole and Wheeler?

Nov. 19: The Angels are considered one of the frontrunners to sign Cole for a number of obvious reasons. The right-hander is from Orange County, Calif., the team needs an ace and wants to contend as soon as 2020, and owner Arte Moreno has never shied away from spending money. MLB.com's Richard Justice takes it one step further, writing that the Angels and Cole are "as close to perfect as a free-agent marriage can get."

However, it doesn't seem as though Los Angeles plans to put all its eggs in the Cole basket. Agent Scott Boras is known to be patient with his top clients, allowing the market to fully develop. Last offseason, Bryce Harper, another Boras client, didn't sign with the Phillies until March.

According to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, the Angels are one of four teams leading the race to sign another top free-agent starting pitcher, Zack Wheeler, along with the Padres, White Sox and Twins. Morosi speculates that Wheeler, one of the only high-end players in this year's free-agent class not represented by Boras, will sign long before Cole, and possibly even before Stephen Strasburg.

That makes one wonder: If the Angels land Wheeler, would that prevent them from signing Cole?

Without being too specific, Angels general manager Billy Eppler revealed at the GM Meetings that he would like to add two starting pitchers this offseason, according to the Orange County Register.

Back in October, Moreno promised a payroll increase in 2020. And Eppler said the Angels "have the ability to be aggressive if we want to," referring to the team's financial situation. But it's possible the Angels' need for more than one starter could steer the club away from Cole. Los Angeles already has roughly $115 million committed to just five players in 2020, and $88.5 million committed to three players in 2021, after which Albert Pujols' deal will come off the books.

Morosi thinks a five-year, $100 million deal for Wheeler is plausible, which means Cole and Wheeler could cost north of $50 million a year combined.

Should Dodgers pursue Cole over Rendon?

Nov. 19: MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported last week that Anthony Rendon is on the Dodgers' radar, but fellow MLB Network insider Joel Sherman thinks Los Angeles would be better off going after one of the other top free agents on the market.

"The first thing I would do is, I would seriously pursue Gerrit Cole," Sherman said Monday on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" program as he played the role of the Dodgers' general manager. "I want to get to the point where Cole and Walker Buehler are my No. 1 and 2 starters, and I begin to de-emphasize Clayton Kershaw, who's still a very good Major League starter. But it gets to the postseason every year and they're somehow beholden to Clayton Kershaw, who even himself, after [National League Division Series] Game 5 when they were eliminated against Washington, talked about his history in the postseason, which is, at best, mixed."

Kershaw is one of the greatest regular-season pitchers in MLB history, recording a lifetime 2.44 ERA and winning three NL Cy Young Awards as well as the 2014 NL MVP Award. He has remained effective over the past few years even as his velocity has begun to slip. Kershaw, though, owns a career 4.43 ERA over 32 playoff appearances (25 starts), and his postseason struggles are perhaps the biggest reason why the Dodgers haven't been able to capture a World Series title despite winning seven consecutive NL West crowns and a pair of NL pennants, as Sherman noted.

Justin Turner has said he is willing to change positions if the team acquires another third baseman, but with the veteran signed for one more season, the Dodgers' arguably have a greater need for Cole than Rendon.

Rendon, though, might fit better within the front office's philosophy. The club has avoided giving out long-term contracts to free agents during president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's tenure. Between Cole and Rendon, the latter is thought to be more open to a shorter-term contract with a higher average annual value like the deal Los Angeles reportedly offered Bryce Harper (four years, $180 million) before he joined the Phillies for $330 million over 13 years.

Cole a West Coast guy, but might Yanks swoop in and woo him to the Bronx?

Nov. 15: The Angels have been the club most mentioned when it comes to Cole's free agency, given that the right-hander is from Southern California and was drafted out of UCLA. But as MLB.com's Richard Justice points out while making some bold predictions on how offseason dominoes might start falling, the Yankees don't often lose when they really want a player on the open market. And a player like Cole -- in the prime of his career and at the height of his dominance -- doesn't wind up on the open market all that often.

"While the consensus in the industry is that Cole will end up with the Angels, the Yankees were always going to be serious bidders," Justice writes. "To state the obvious, they do not finish second in free-agent pursuits very often. This signing [would rattle] both the free-agent and trade markets, especially for the Angels, who envisioned Cole being their crown jewel acquisition." More >

Ranking the top suitors for Cole

Nov. 14: Cole would make every team better -- a lot better. Only one club can land the superstar right-hander, though, which is why Will Leitch introduced MLB.com's Gerrit Cole Suitor Power Rankings, breaking down the top five squads leading the chase for the 29-year-old.

At the tippy top? The Dodgers, who "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," as Leitch wrote. "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."

Throw in the fact that Cole is a native of Southern California, and well, Los Angeles makes a lot of sense all the way around. Plus, just imagine a rotation fronted by Cole, fellow hard-throwing righty Walker Buehler and star southpaw Clayton Kershaw.

The other four clubs in the main mix: the Phillies, who could look to spend big again this offseason, this time to fix their rotation; the Rangers, who could be something of a surprise suitor in these sweepstakes; the Angels, the other LA team that already has been linked aplenty to Cole and badly needs pitching; and the Yankees, who have been after Cole ever since they drafted him out of high school in the first round in 2008 but failed to sign him away from UCLA.

Find out the exact order of those four squads -- and a few other teams that could enter the fray -- in the Cole Suitor Power Rankings here.

Cole finishes as runner-up for AL Cy

Nov. 13: Wednesday was as good a time as any to revisit Cole's dominant walk year. The AL Cy Young Award results were announced, with Cole finishing second in an extremely close race with teammate Justin Verlander.

Cole and Verlander received every first- and second-place vote. Cole got 13 first-place votes and 17 second-place votes; Verlander got 17 first-place votes and 13 second-place votes. No other AL pitcher got a top-two vote.

Just a reminder of Cole's 2019 stats: a 20-5 record, an AL-leading 2.50 ERA and a Major League-leading 326 strikeouts -- the highest single-season total since Randy Johnson's 334 in 2002.

What does that mean for Cole's free agency? Well, as agent Scott Boras put it Wednesday at the GM Meetings, "If this were Major League Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that would clearly want a lump of Cole."

When will Cole sign?

Nov. 13: Agent Scott Boras has never been one to rush the free-agent process for his top clients, and it appears to be business as usual when it comes to Cole, according to SNY's Andy Martino.

Industry sources told Martino that Boras has indicated to interested teams that Cole is unlikely to sign before January.

But Boras said Wednesday at the GM Meetings that reports that Cole won't sign until the new year aren't accurate.

Last offseason, Boras negotiated a 13-year, $330 million contract for Bryce Harper with the Phillies after Spring Training had already begun. Harper's contract also came after the other elite player in last year's free-agent class, Manny Machado, had landed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres.

Boras represents many of this year's big-name free agents, including Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel, which could give him even more influence than usual over the pace of the market. That said, Martino has heard the markets for Strasburg and Rendon could move faster than expected.

Yankees not hiding interest in Cole

Nov. 12: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman put it simply at the GM Meetings on Monday. New York is interested in Cole, the top free-agent starter on the market.

"We'll talk to Cole," Cashman said, when asked about Cole and fellow free-agent ace Stephen Strasburg. "Anybody would have interest in players like that."

The Yankees would have to win Cole away from his Southern California roots -- teams like the Angels that are reportedly interested -- but they'll try.

Cole, Strasburg may not fit in San Diego

Nov. 12: As soon as Stephen Strasburg opted out of the remaining four years of his contract with the Nationals, many speculated the World Series MVP possibly could find his way back to his hometown of San Diego. But how likely is that to happen?

While the Padres are intent on landing a starting pitcher or two this offseason, they may not have the budget to pony up what it will take to secure Strasburg or Cole, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

On one hand, that might seem surprising because the Padres have spent big the past two offseasons, handing out $300 million to third baseman Manny Machado last year and $144 million to first baseman Eric Hosmer in February 2018. On the other hand, though, those very contracts could be precisely why San Diego may not be able to fit Strasburg, who attended San Diego State University before going first overall in the 2009 Draft, into the payroll this time around.

Given those financial restraints, Acee suggests it may be more likely that the Padres target a free agent like Zack Wheeler, who won't command as hefty of a contract as Strasburg or Cole, the latter of whom is expected to score a record contract for a pitch.

Alternatively, GM A.J. Preller could look to the trade market to add an arm, as the club's Minor League system is as deep and talented as any in the sport, so he has the chips to go that route.

Cole reportedly atop Phillies' wish list

Nov. 10: Although the Phillies were among the busiest teams in the Majors when it came to improving their roster last offseason, they did not address their rotation, opting instead to head into 2019 with Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez as their starting five. But Philadelphia's priorities have changed after an 81-81 season in which the team ranked 11th in the National League in rotation ERA (4.64).

According to Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is heading to the GM Meetings, which begin Monday, with an offseason plan that centers around pitching. While Cole is at the top of the Phils' wish list, the team could look to add multiple free-agent starters, Breen writes.

In a radio appearance on 94 WIP in Philadelphia on Thursday, Klentak stressed the importance of not losing Draft picks after the team did so when it signed three players (Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta, Bryce Harper) who rejected the qualifying offer in the past two offseasons.

"One of the things we have to try to do, if we can, is to not forfeit Draft picks, and that's hard when you're fishing in the deep end of the free-agent pond," Klentak said. "But we lost our second-round pick last year and our second and third the year before. That doesn't sound like a lot, but that's where Scott Kingery comes from, that's where Spencer Howard comes from, that's where Connor Seabold comes from. That's where some good players come from."

The problem for Philadelphia is that five of the top free-agent starters -- Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Odorizzi -- received a QO this year, which means the club's options could be limited if it indeed wants to avoid giving up another pick.

Notable starters who didn't get a QO include Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel and former Phillies ace Cole Hamels. Hamels has expressed interest in returning to the city where he spent the first 10 years of his career and won a World Series title. The veteran left-hander also said he is willing to sign a one-year deal to join a contender.

While Klentak's comments may signal a hesitancy to pursue one of the QO pitchers, it's possible that Cole is the exception.

Earlier this offseason, Matt Gelb of The Athletic (subscription required) reported that the Phillies were planning to pursue Cole and were going to "plot two scenarios for this winter -- one with Cole and one without him."

Will more Cole candidates emerge this week?

Nov. 10: The GM Meetings are this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., and MLB.com's Mark Feinsand writes that we may learn of other bidders for Cole as executives move into high-powered planning mode for 2020 this week. The Angels, Dodgers and Yankees are the three teams believed to be in the running, and Astros owner Jim Crane said that the team will attempt to re-sign him. But which other teams will we see emerge as these meetings get underway? Feinsand notes that the Phillies are always a possibility as big spenders, and the Rangers are thought to be looking to add payroll as they move to their new stadium for next season. Plus, the Padres have made surprising moves in each of the last two offseasons -- they could always be back for an encore.

If Strasburg returns to Washington, could Padres be in on Cole?

Nov. 9: After adding big-name free agents (Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado) in each of the past two offseasons, the pressure is on the Padres to end a postseason drought that reached 13 years in 2019. The club needs an ace above all else, and San Diego native Stephen Strasburg is expected to be a target.

But if Strasburg returns to the Nationals, there's another ace righty on the free-agent market with Southern California ties the Padres could turn to. Will the team surprise again by landing Cole?

Sports Illustrated's Michael Shapiro lists San Diego among his top five contenders for the 29-year-old, writing that "we shouldn’t discount the Padres from the Cole sweepstakes," even if Strasburg is getting more buzz as a potential addition.

The question is whether Padres ownership is willing to hand out another $250+ million contract, with Machado, Hosmer and Wil Myers making a combined $70 million per year over the next three years. Myers' deal will come off the books after that, assuming the Padres choose to pay him a $1 million buyout instead of picking up his $20 million option for 2023.

San Diego does have Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack on pre-arbitration deals and one of the top farm systems in the game, which could help the team build an inexpensive but talented roster around its high-priced veterans until Myers' contract ends and gives the club additional flexibility. That leaves the door open for a possible run at Strasburg and, perhaps, Cole.

Are the Yankees willing to exceed the luxury tax in 2020?

Nov. 9: With the GM Meetings set to begin Monday, SNY's Danny Abriano has some questions he'd like to see Yankees general manager Brian Cashman answer. Three of the questions are closely linked:

1. What's the level of interest in Gerrit Cole and other top free-agent starting pitchers?
2. Is the club willing to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax (aka the "luxury tax") threshold?
3. Will the team look to re-sign Didi Gregorius?

Factoring in projected arbitration raises and players signed to Major League contracts, the Yankees' CBT figure for 2020 is already closing in on $190 million, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. The first CBT threshold is $208 million.

That doesn't take into account new contracts for Gregorius and fellow free agent Brett Gardner. While Gregorius' future in the Bronx is still up in the air, the Yankees and Gardner have opened negotiations on a new contract, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. Gardner, who earned $7.5 million in 2019, may be looking for a raise after posting career highs in homers (28) and OPS (.829).

Cot's puts the Yankees' 2019 CBT number at $234 million, $28 million over last season's threshold of $206 million, which means the team would be a repeat offender -- and thus, would face a steeper tax rate -- if it exceeds it again in 2020.

Furthermore, as a CBT payor in 2019, the Yankees will need to forfeit their second- and fifth-highest selections in 2020 Draft as well $1 million from their international bonus pool if they sign any free agent who rejected a qualifying offer. The list of QO players this year includes five of the top starting pitchers: Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Odorizzi.

Cashman is highly unlikely to name specific targets the Yankees are planning to pursue, but he might indirectly reveal whether any of those pitchers are realistic options if he sheds some light on the team's luxury-tax stance at the GM Meetings.

Should Dodgers sign Cole and trade for Lindor?

Nov. 8: Falling short of a World Series title for the 31st consecutive season, and with the latest attempt ending in the National League Division Series following two straight NL pennants, some feel the Dodgers need to do something drastic to get them over the top in 2020. MLB Network Radio's Jeff Joyce certainly does.

"I'd get stupid," Joyce said. "Just sign Gerrit Cole and trade for Francisco Lindor. Just do it. ... I looked at this Dodgers team and said before we got to the World Series that I thought the only team that could beat the Astros or the Yankees out of those National League teams was the Nationals, and not the Dodgers, because the Nationals' rotation could nullify those right-handed bats of the Astros.

"I didn't have any confidence that if the Dodgers got to the World Series against the Astros, that they were going to win. ... Do you want to win the World Series, or do you want to just collect the money at the turn-styles every year, and say, 'Hey, we got to the playoffs 17 straight years,' but Steve Sax is the last one wearing a World Series ring."

How the competitive balance tax will affect Astros' pursuit

Nov. 8: In this week's Astros Inbox, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart addresses the question of how realistic it would be for the Astros to re-sign Cole. The team has said it will make a run at re-signing the Cy Young finalist, but the competitive balance tax could make it particularly difficult.

Even without Cole on the books, the Astros will likely be close to the luxury tax threshold next year, which is set at $208 million. Owner Jim Crane said the team could surpass the threshold, but it's unclear how high it would realistically go. Crane also said that the length of the contract could be the toughest part to contend with -- the Astros likely don't want to sign Cole for more than five years, but his initial demand is likely to be longer than that.

Stanton: Yanks should get Cole AND Strasburg

Nov. 7: Is there a timeline where the Yankees sign Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg? If New York slugger Giancarlo Stanton had his druthers, both aces would be in pinstripes next season.

Stanton told TMZ Sports that a team "can never go wrong with Cole and Strasburg," adding that the Bronx Bombers "can never have too many" superstars on their roster. It's no secret that the Yankees are looking for an impact starting pitcher to join Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka in their rotation, and signing either Cole or Strasburg -- the market's two best free-agent starters -- would qualify as a major splash.

"I'm pretty sure Gerrit grew up a Yankees fan, so he'd always like to do that," said Stanton. "And, Stras, we debuted together, so he'd like that."

Stanton and Strasburg both debuted in 2010, though not for the same team of course; they played for division rivals in Miami and Washington. Still, phenoms that come up with other teams are always linked to the Yankees eventually, and Stanton and Strasburg were no different when they took the National League by storm at the beginning of the decade. If Stanton gets his wish, those whispers regarding Strasburg and Cole could come true in the coming months.

Sabathia: I've talked to Cole 'at length' about playing in NY

Nov. 6: Eleven years ago, the Yankees made one of the most successful free-agent signings in franchise history, bringing in CC Sabathia on a seven-year, $161 million contract. At the time, the big lefty, a California native, was unsure if he wanted to play in New York, but the Yanks significantly outbid the Angels and everyone else for his services. The recently retired Sabathia thinks the Yankees could do the same with Cole this offseason, even if he has his own reservations about the Big Apple.

It has been widely assumed that Cole, another California native, wants to play on the West Coast, though he quashed that speculation the day after the World Series ended. "I never said that," the right-hander told the Houston Chronicle.

Even if Cole does privately have his heart set on a West Coast team, Sabathia thinks the Yankees could sway him with the right offer. He also revealed that the two have spoken on multiple occasions about Sabathia's experience in New York.

“Me and Gerrit Cole have spoken at length many times about me pitching as a Yankee as a West Coast Guy,” Sabathia said in a preview clip for the "R2C2 is UNINTERRUPTED" podcast. “This is crazy, this is shaping out … like the same offseason I had.

"If you give [him] enough money, he’s going to want to come here. I am speaking from experience."

While that may be so, it remains to be seen if the Yankees will go all out to sign Cole. While the team has continued to spend big in recent years, it has shied away from the win-at-all-cost moves that defined the late George Steinbrenner's tenure as owner. Additionally, the Competitive Balance Tax could be a factor in how much New York spends this offseason.

Cole tops MLBTR rankings; can he top Price and Greinke?

Nov. 5: MLB Trade Rumors published its 14th annual Top 50 Free Agents list on Tuesday, and Cole is right at the top. MLBTR writer Tim Dierkes states that Cole is a "near-lock" to surpass David Price's record $217 million contract for total value for a free-agent pitcher, while also having a chance to top Zack Greinke's $34.4 million record for average annual value (AAV). Dierkes also predicts the Angels as Cole's landing spot on an eight-year, $256 million contract, which comes out to a $32 million AAV.

The Angels are far from the only team that figures to be in the Cole sweepstakes; Dierkes identifies the Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, White Sox, Twins, Phillies, Rangers and Cubs as clubs who could all be in the running.

Astros owner not ruling out a Cole return

Nov. 4: With Cole now a free agent, it's possible that his final pitch as a member of the Astros came in Game 5 of the World Series against the Nationals.

The Astros have over $150 million committed to just eight players -- Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, José Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, Ryan Pressly and Yuli Gurriel -- in 2020. Arbitration raises for George Springer, Roberto Osuna and Carlos Correa could add another $30 million or more to the payroll. The trio made $23.5 million combined in 2019, when Houston's payroll was in the $170M range. The first Competitive Balance Tax threshold is set at $208 million next season.

Houston has never paid the so-called "luxury tax" in the past, but Astros owner Jim Crane isn't ruling out Cole as a target, even if it means exceeding the threshold.

"It's a possibility," Crane said about paying the tax. "We're going to take a run at [re-signing Cole]. We don't know if we can get where they want to get."