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Cole, Yanks agree to record deal

December 11, 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.

Cole, Yanks agree to record deal

Dec. 10: Cole and the Yankees agreed to a record-setting nine-year, $324 million contract, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand Tuesday night. The club has not confirmed.

The pact includes a full no-trade clause, according to Feinsand, and establishes new high marks in terms of total contract value for a free-agent starting pitcher and average annual value for any free agent ($36 million per year). Cole's deal surpasses the seven-year, $245 million agreement that right-hander Stephen Strasburg signed with the Nationals on Monday. Cole can opt out after the fifth year of the deal, per Feinsand.

What is Cole's contract target in wake of Strasburg's deal?

Dec. 9: The record for the largest deal ever given to a pitcher no longer belongs to David Price's $217 million. The new record-holder is Stephen Strasburg at $245 million ... for now. Strasburg will return to the Nats after agreeing to the historic seven-year pact on Monday, but with Cole on the market, we could soon see a new all-time mark established again, perhaps as early as this week.

A source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that it is becoming increasingly likely that Cole will sign during the Winter Meetings.

ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Saturday that teams were expected to start making their initial bids for Cole in the coming days, with the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers considered the three favorites. Passan previously noted that the Yankees have "ownership-level approval" to offer Cole a record contract, and a source told MLB Network insider Joel Sherman that Yanks general manager Brian Cashman had plans to submit a formal offer on Monday.

With Strasburg and Zack Wheeler off the market, there's even more pressure on those teams to get a deal done with Cole.

Prior to Strasburg's agreement, an exec whose team is in the market for starting pitching predicted that Cole could earn up to $280 million over eight years, according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic (subscription required). After Strasburg received $245 million over seven years from the Nats, Cole's chances of getting $280 million seem even better.

In fact, MLB Network insiders Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman have heard Cole is aiming for a nine- or 10-year deal, which could put the $300 million mark in reach -- and then some.

Cole expected to go with best deal, regardless of geography

Dec. 9: There has been widespread speculation for months that Cole, a Southern California native, prefers a team on the West Coast. However, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman continues to hear that the right-hander plans to go with the best deal, regardless of geography.

As Heyman notes, that's good news for the Yankees, who are aggressively pursuing Cole while competing mainly against the Angels and Dodgers.

ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Thursday that New York has "ownership-level approval" to make Cole a record offer. Teams are expected to submit initial offers to the 29-year-old this week.

Giants emerging in Cole sweepstakes

Dec. 8: One darkhorse is emerging in Cole's free agency bid, as the Giants are reportedly in the mix of clubs that have been in contact with the superstar starting pitcher.

Cole's camp has been in contact with San Francisco, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, and the dialogue has been reciprocated well. Cole likes the idea of playing alongside brother-in-law Brandon Crawford, the Giants' two-time All-Star shortstop, and pitching at hitter-friendly Oracle Park.

Cole, who is represented by super agent Scott Boras, reportedly told the Yankees in an in-person meeting last week that he does not have a West coast bias, and that he will keep his options open.

The Giants, who have missed the postseason in each of the past three years, would seem like an under-the-radar suitor for Cole, given that the club has a throng of veterans and a middle-of-the-pack farm system. But under a new front office, Cole could be a game-changing acquisition that would show the club's commitment to its immediate Major League product.

Report: Cole offers could be rolling in

Dec. 7: Suitors, start your engines. The initial offers for Gerrit Cole could be made in the coming days, ESPN's Jeff Passan reports.

Passan reported Friday that the Yankees have been given "ownership-level approval" to offer Cole a record contract, meaning it could be upwards of $220 million. New York and the two Los Angeles clubs hold three of the biggest purses in baseball, so it makes sense that they appear to be at the front of the pack right now. Cole is also a California native.

Report: Yanks ownership approves record offer for Cole

Dec. 6: If it wasn't perfectly clear just yet, it is now -- the Yankees' top priority this offseason is signing Cole, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, who added that the team's brass has "ownership-level approval to offer him a record deal."

The Yankees met with Cole on Tuesday. The sitdown reportedly went well, and this latest news about the club more or less making it known that the 29-year-old star right-hander is now the main focus would seem to support that.

As far as Cole securing a record contract, the expectation all along has been that he would break David Price's current mark of $217 million for largest amount ever paid to a pitcher. The Yankees, it appears, have the authority from the Steinbrenner family to splurge enough to help get Cole there.

SNY's Andy Martino notes that the Yankees are "full, full, full steam ahead on Cole" and "haven't been this into the top free agent in years."

Martino compares the Cole situation to the Manny Machado sweepstakes last offseason. While the Yankees had some level of interest in Machado, many within the organization were against giving a megadeal to the infielder. There's no such debate on Cole, Martino says.

Dodgers have flexibility to go big this offseason … but will they?

Dec. 6: The Dodgers have been one of MLB's most successful franchises for more than half a decade, winning seven consecutive National League West titles and making a pair of World Series appearances. They've managed to accomplish that without being major players at the top of the free-agent market. During Andrew Friedman's tenure as president of baseball operations, the club hasn't signed any outside free agent for more than the $55 million the club gave to A.J. Pollock last offseason, and the $93 million contract Clayton Kershaw signed last November is the largest deal Los Angeles has given to one of its own free agents.

But as MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal notes, the team could take a different approach this offseason.

"The Dodgers under Andrew Friedman, who took over in October 2014, have never been in this flexible of a payroll position," Rosenthal said Thursday on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" program. "They're well under the luxury-tax threshold. They've been under the last two years, so they've got their penalty rate reset to the minimum.

"So, in essence, they can do anything they want. That means Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon in the free-agent market, or one of the big trade pieces -- whether it's [Mookie Betts] or [Kris] Bryant or Francisco Lindor. … They have spent years -- literally, years -- trying to get into this position. … Why work toward this moment, and not seize it?"

How did Yankees meeting with Cole go?

Dec. 4: The Yankees had a "very nice" introductory meeting with Cole on Tuesday, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported. While specific financial terms were not discussed, Heyman noted that the team made it clear "the dollars will be there" in addition to selling Cole on the Yankees' winning tradition. Former Yankees and Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte was in attendance, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

The pitch was similar to the one the Yanks gave CC Sabathia in 2008, according to Sweeny Murti of WFAN Radio in New York.

Sabathia, a California native like Cole, was believed to prefer a West Coast team when he became a free agent. But the Yankees significantly outbid the Angels to sway the left-hander. They may need to do the same to lure Cole away from SoCal, although Heyman reported Wednesday that Cole assured the Yanks he has "no West Coast bias" during Tuesday's four-hour meeting.

Still, the club is keeping its options open and was planning to meet with free agent Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday.

Which teams are in on Cole so far?

Dec. 4: The Yankees' sitdown with Cole and agent Scott Boras on Tuesday apparently wasn't the first meeting the right-hander has had this offseason.

Which other clubs have met with Cole, and which ones are making it known they're in the mix so far? Let's try to round 'em up.

The Angels and the Dodgers also have had face-to-face visits with the right-hander, as MLB Network insider Joel Sherman reported in an article for the New York Post. That's not exactly surprising, as those teams have long been considered likely suitors for Cole, who has roots in Southern California, leading to speculation that he may prefer to sign with a West Coast team. Sherman, however, thinks the importance of geography is being "overstated."

"Cole is thoughtful, cosmopolitan. Those who know him say that he is truly interviewing the teams here and not about where in the United States they are located," Sherman wrote.

Aside from the Yanks, Angels and Dodgers, the Rangers and Phillies -- who agreed to a five-year deal with fellow hard-throwing righty Zack Wheeler on Wednesday -- also are in on Cole, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Report: Yankees to meet with Cole, Strasburg this week

Dec. 3: The Yankees are ramping up their pursuit of two of the top pitchers on the free-agent market. According to a report from MLB Network insider Joel Sherman, general manager Brian Cashman, manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake were scheduled to meet with Cole in California on Tuesday. The plan is to meet with fellow Scott Boras client Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

The Yankees will likely need to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax threshold to sign either pitcher. Both are expected to get more than $30 million per year.

MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, who initially reported the Yankees' plans to meet with Cole and Strasburg this week, notes in an article for The Athletic (subscription required) that the club is making Cole a priority.

The right-hander has eluded the Yankees on multiple occasions in the past. New York initially selected Cole in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft but failed to sign him. The team also discussed a trade with the Pirates in the 2017-18 offseason but was unable to complete a deal. The Astros ultimately acquired Cole for four players.

MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported last week that the Yankees did not have a ton of optimism that they could keep Cole away from his native Southern California, as the Angels are expected to be one of the top competitors for the 29-year-old. As the planned meeting with Strasburg shows, the Yankees are keeping their options open in case Cole proves elusive again. More >

Cole an unlikely target for Nats, even if Strasburg departs

Dec. 2: Could the Nats sign Cole to replace Stephen Strasburg? MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal mentioned the scenario as a possibility last week.

"If they lose Rendon, they clearly will need a third baseman; could be Donaldson, could be [Mike] Moustakas," Rosenthal said in an appearance on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" program. "If they lose Strasburg, they'll have rotation needs as well. And who knows, they've been a big player for starting pitching in the past. It helped them win a World Series title. I would expect they'd get in on all of the good starting pitchers that are out there. Maybe even Gerrit Cole."

Financially, Washington should be able to make it work. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the club paid nearly $100 million combined in 2019 for Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier, Trevor Rosenthal, Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams. In terms of the Competitive Balance Tax number, which uses average annual value, they accounted for roughly $83 million. All of those players are now off the books.

However, Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic (subscription required) doesn't consider it very likely. Cole is expected to command a larger deal than Strasburg, and he could be on the market for much longer. Waiting for Cole's market to move could prevent Washington from addressing its myriad of other needs, and its chances of signing him at that point might not even be all that great, given the other teams that are expected to be in the mix.

"The Nationals can’t afford to wait around and get in on the Cole sweepstakes that they could lose," Ghiroli writes. "They have a much better chance of retaining Strasburg and doing it sooner."

Will Dodgers' self-imposed limits keep them from landing Cole?

Nov. 25: The Dodgers are eyeing the top three free agents in this year's class (Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon) and have the financial flexibility to go big this offseason -- but they have set valuations for each player, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. While it's not unusual for a club to have limits when it comes to pursuing top free agents, Heyman adds that the Dodgers "intend to remain disciplined" with their offers. That may not bode well for a team that has routinely passed on marquee free agents under current leadership. As MLB.com's Ken Gurnick notes, this version of the Dodgers' front office has never signed one of the three biggest free-agent contracts in any particular offseason. That includes passing on Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, David Price, Zack Greinke, Yu Darvish and Patrick Corbin when those star hurlers signed nine-figure deals in free agency.

Cole's projections are astounding

Nov. 22: Cole has entered free agency at the ideal time, as he is coming off two seasons with the Astros in which he posted a combined 2.68 ERA with 602 strikeouts in 412 2/3 innings. That said, free-agent suitors aren't paying for past performance. The question is whether his current level of performance is sustainable. According to at least one projection system, the answer is yes.

Brian Cartwright, the developer of the Oliver projections, as well as a writer and consultant to MLB teams, provided MLB.com with projections for Cole’s next seven seasons. The 29-year-old is projected to record a sub-3.00 ERA in all of them.

If Cole lives up to his projections, he would be one of the best free-agent signings of all time among starting pitchers, on par with hurlers such as Max Scherzer, Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux. More >