SAN DIEGO -- More than a decade before throwing his first big league pitch, Gerrit Cole arched his 11-year-old frame over the right-field wall prior to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, attempting to secure the attention of stars like Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neill by hoisting a hand-written placard that read: "Yankee Fan Today, Tomorrow, Forever."
Having garnered his favorite club's focus on numerous occasions since that day, Cole will finally be rewarded with a chance to finish his career wearing the fabled pinstripes. Widely considered the most-prized free-agent starter available this offseason, 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.
Since Cole received a qualifying offer, the Astros will receive a pick after Competitive Balance Round B, and the Yankees will lose their second- and fifth-highest selections, as well as $1 million from their international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period. Houston's pick, at the moment, is No. 74 overall, though that will most likely change with subsequent signings/compensations.
"Obviously when you are talking about a player at the level of Gerrit Cole, in a lot of ways, that's a game-changing type talent," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said earlier on Tuesday.
New York is believed to have outbid the Angels and Dodgers for Cole's services. In a news conference held earlier on Tuesday, agent Scott Boras added two "mystery teams" to the mix. Those clubs were believed to be the Astros and Giants, though neither proved to be a stumbling block as general manager Brian Cashman secured his top target of the offseason.
"We wouldn't be having the dialogues we're having if we didn't believe in the player and his ability to compete at the highest level in Major League Baseball," Cashman said prior to the agreement.
When the 29-year-old Cole tries on the interlocking "NY" cap for the first time at his introductory press conference, it will complete a circuitous route to the Bronx for the Southern California-born righty.
The Yankees made Cole their first-round selection (28th overall) in the 2008 MLB Draft, only to see him honor his commitment to UCLA. Selected first overall by the Pirates in '11, Cole reached the Majors with Pittsburgh in '13. He was 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in 127 starts during his time with the Bucs, including selection as a '15 National League All-Star.
With the Pirates dangling Cole to interested clubs during the 2017-18 offseason, Cashman again attempted to bring Cole to New York. Cashman balked at including third baseman Miguel Andújar in negotiations, and Pittsburgh ultimately agreed to a four-player package from the Astros.
Cole was 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA in 65 starts for Houston over the past two seasons, earning selection as an American League All-Star both years. He finished second to teammate Justin Verlander in AL Cy Young Award balloting this past season, leading the Majors with 326 strikeouts and a 185 ERA+ while finishing 20-5 with a league-leading 2.50 ERA in 33 starts.
Cole grew up a Yankees fan in Angels territory, so the Bombers attempted to tug on his nostalgia for the franchise during a visit prior to the Winter Meetings, inviting former pitcher Andy Pettitte to accompany a group that included Cashman, assistant general manager Mike Fishman, Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake.
"I feel like his make-up is really special," Boone said. "This is a guy that's really hungry, really driven. He understands who he is."
The nine-figure outlay to a free-agent starter is the Yankees' first since 2014, when Masahiro Tanaka agreed to a seven-year, $155 million pact.
Cole projects to head a Yankees rotation that will also feature Tanaka, James Paxton, Luis Severino, JA Happ, and perhaps Domingo German or Jordan Montgomery.
"We feel like we have the makings of a really good rotation," Boone said. "I feel like sometimes our rotation doesn't quite get the credit that I think it deserves. Obviously adding a guy like Cole to that mix makes it one of the best."
While Cole's landmark deal will threaten to push payroll past the third luxury-tax threshold of $248 million, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner authorized the outlay understanding that Tanaka, Paxton and possibly Happ could all be free agents after the 2020 season. The Cole signing could increase the Yankees' efforts to trade Happ, who has been being actively shopped in recent weeks.
"I think we have the best ownership in baseball," Cashman said. "I think we have the best fans in baseball. I would take our team and our team chemistry and line it up against anybody in the game. We're just trying to add people that we think would fit not just from a performance side, but also from a teammate side. We wouldn't be talking to Gerrit Cole if we didn't feel that way."