When the Yankees were internally discussing the astronomical dollar figures that would eventually convince Gerrit Cole to select the pinstripes for 2020 and beyond, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said that he identified the standout pitcher as “a game-changer” who would help the franchise scale the mountain in its pursuit of a 28th World Series championship.
Steinbrenner and the Yankees are convinced that adding Cole to the group that produced 103 regular-season victories will produce a different outcome in October, where the Bombers have had their runs ended by the Astros twice in the past three years. Recent celebratory tweets from New York stars like Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres only serve to underscore how Cole has added to the Yanks’ surging confidence.
“I think there's no doubt we've got an excellent core,” Steinbrenner said. “We didn't make it all the way last year, didn't get the ultimate job done, but we had a great season. There's going to be more to come and, yes, we have an incredible team right here right now. Clearly, I felt that it was time to strike and really get that final big piece that can make a difference.”
What have the Yankees done so far this offseason?
The Yankees landed their top target in early December, agreeing to terms with Cole on a nine-year, $324 million contract that represents the largest in total dollars issued to a pitcher, while the $36 million average annual salary is the highest of any player. They also re-signed outfielder Brett Gardner to a one-year, $12.5 million contract with an option for 2021.
Other transactions have included extending closer Aroldis Chapman's contract by a year, releasing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Greg Bird and trading left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. to the Mariners in exchange for international bonus pool money. On Dec. 23, the Yankees dealt right-hander Chance Adams to the Royals for 21-year-old Minor League infielder Cristian Perez.
What’s left to do?
General manager Brian Cashman said that he remains open to anything that makes sense, but after adding Cole, the Yankees’ heavy lifting appears to be done. If Torres begins the season as the everyday shortstop, as anticipated, the Yanks may look for someone capable of pushing Thairo Estrada and Tyler Wade for the backup infield role.
They’d like to add to an already formidable bullpen, having checked in with the Brewers regarding left-hander Josh Hader, though no deal appears imminent. The Yankees appear prepared to go into the season with Kyle Higashioka as the projected backup to catcher Gary Sánchez, with journeyman Erik Kratz also set to attend Spring Training on a Minor League contract.
Who’s returning and who isn’t?
The Yanks’ everyday lineup projects to have Sánchez behind the plate, with first baseman Luke Voit, second baseman DJ LeMahieu, Torres and third baseman Gio Urshela around the infield.
The outfield should have Giancarlo Stanton, Gardner and Judge from left to right, with Mike Tauchman in line to back up at all three positions. Clint Frazier should be in the mix for the outfield corners, and the DH role could be divided among several aforementioned players, plus Miguel Andújar.
On the pitching side, Cole will join Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino in the rotation, with a final spot up for grabs between J.A. Happ (unless he is traded), Domingo Germán, Jonathan Loaisiga, Jordan Montgomery, Michael King and Deivi Garcia. In the bullpen, Chapman will handle the ninth inning, with Zack Britton, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino all in the setup mix.
Prominent members of the 2019 club who are not expected to return include: Right-hander Dellin Betances (free agent), designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (free agent), infielder Didi Gregorius (Phillies), outfielder Cameron Maybin (free agent), catcher Austin Romine (Tigers) and left-hander CC Sabathia (retired).
Is everyone healthy?
A fair question, considering the 2019 Yankees set a Major League record with 30 players on the injured list (39 stints). Outfielder Aaron Hicks will be out until at least June after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, but the other two Yanks who underwent the knife after the season are expected to be ready for Spring Training -- Tanaka (bone spurs in right elbow) and Voit (bilateral core injuries).
What are the expectations for Cole?
The bar will be set extremely high, considering his salary and the fact that Steinbrenner said he expects to win multiple World Series titles during Cole’s time in pinstripes.
On the mound, Cole has few parallels. The runner-up to Justin Verlander for the 2019 American League Cy Young Award, Cole was 20-5 with an AL-leading 2.50 ERA in 33 starts, pacing the Majors with 326 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings. Off the field, Cole has convinced the Yankees that he will be able to handle New York’s bright lights and serve as an important part of their clubhouse mix.
“As excited as I am to be able to hand him the ball every fifth day, I'm equally as excited to see what he brings behind the scenes, adding to what I feel like is a room full of guys that have a lot of championship qualities,” manager Aaron Boone said.
When is Spring Training?
Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 12. The first workout for pitchers and catchers is set for Feb. 13. Major League position players are due to report on Feb. 17, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Feb. 18. The Grapefruit League exhibition schedule opens Feb. 22, when the Yanks will host the Blue Jays for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest at Steinbrenner Field.
When is Opening Day?
The Yankees will open the regular season on March 26 in Baltimore, playing the Orioles in a 3:05 p.m. ET contest. After a three-game series against the Orioles and three more against the Rays in St. Petersburg, the Yankee Stadium home opener is scheduled to be played against the Blue Jays on April 2 at 1:05 p.m. ET.
What other key dates should we look toward?
Will Derek Jeter follow in Mariano Rivera’s footsteps and become the second unanimous inductee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame? We will find out on Jan. 21, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America announces the results of the 2020 balloting. Unanimous or not, Jeter appears to be a lock for induction, with the ceremony scheduled for July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In addition to the usual slate of contests (the first Yankees-Red Sox games are May 8-10 in The Bronx), the Bombers’ 2020 schedule includes several interesting dates. The Yankees and Blue Jays will play exhibition games at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on March 23-24, and the Yankees and White Sox will play an Aug. 13 regular-season contest at the Field of Dreams complex in Dyersville, Iowa.
The Yanks will be among the first visitors to the Rangers’ new stadium in Arlington (April 13-15), while Interleague Play brings meetings with the National League Central. The Reds (April 17-19), Pirates (May 5-6) and Cubs (June 26-28) will visit New York, with the Yankees heading on the road to see the Brewers (May 19-21), Pirates (June 16-17) and Cardinals (July 17-19).
The Subway Series against the Mets will be played on July 7-8 at Yankee Stadium and on July 28-29 at Citi Field.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.