Cy Young winner Cole needs MRI on pitching elbow

Ace has had difficulty recovering between outings, putting Opening Day start in jeopardy

March 11th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- For all of the warranted excitement that Juan Soto’s arrival has produced, arguably remains the most indispensable Yankees star. The ace right-hander’s availability for Opening Day is now in question.

Cole is scheduled to have an MRI on his pitching elbow Monday, manager Aaron Boone said in Clearwater, because the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner is experiencing difficulty bouncing back between starts.

“He described it as his recovery before getting to his next start has been more akin to what he feels during the season when he’s making 100 pitches,” Boone said. “When he’s throwing 45 and 55, he usually doesn’t have the recovery issues he’s having.

“It’s just been more of a challenge and more taxing, so we’re going to get an MRI just to see what we’re dealing with there.”

Durability has been a hallmark for Cole, 33, who has experienced only a minor left hamstring injury since signing a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees before the 2020 season.

Cole has made only one Grapefruit League start, on March 1 against the Blue Jays. He opted to pitch under simulated conditions on the afternoon of March 7 rather than face the Tigers in an evening contest.

Tuesday would have been Cole’s scheduled day to pitch, and the Yankees delayed announcing a starting pitcher for that game while evaluating Cole’s situation.

“All of the strength testing they do has been good,” Boone said. “His stuff and his command has been really good in his outings. He’s just having a hard time getting that fifth or sixth day. He’s not recovering like he’s accustomed to.”

Boone said that he did not expect a definitive answer on Cole’s prognosis Monday, and perhaps not even by Tuesday, given that the club will seek many opinions.

Losing Cole for any period would be a significant blow for the Yankees, whose rotation is pockmarked with questions behind the ace.

Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman and Nestor Cortes all dealt with injury issues last season, while Clarke Schmidt permitted four runs over 2 2/3 innings against the Braves on Sunday afternoon.

“He’s a big part of this rotation. It’s tough to hear the news,” Cortes said. “He’s so well aware of his body. He knows what he’s doing in and out throughout the whole year. … I feel like this is something that he’s trying to get ahead of. Obviously, it’s alarming for everybody. I know he’s been dealing with some stuff, as is every pitcher in Spring Training. I didn’t know how serious it was until now.”

Though the Yankees did extend an offer to free-agent left-hander and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell in December, that deal is no longer believed to be on the table, with some of those funds having been reallocated to Stroman’s two-year, $37 million contract.

Because managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has confirmed that the Yankees are over the highest luxury tax threshold of $297 million, any contract for Snell (or free-agent left-hander Jordan Montgomery, for that matter) would be taxed at 110 percent.

For example, a deal worth $30 million annually would incur an additional $33 million in competitive balance tax for the 2024 season.

Additionally, Snell has compensation attached after declining the Padres’ qualifying offer. Whichever team signs him must surrender a second- and fifth-round pick, plus $1 million in international pool money.