Gerrit Cole, considered the top prize in this offseason’s free-agent class, has met with both the Dodgers and Angels, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The New York Yankees reportedly have also spent time with Cole.
The 29-year-old Orange County native was raised minutes from Angel Stadium and attended UCLA. He grew up a fan of the Angels and Yankees. Those two clubs and the Dodgers are seemingly the three teams atop Cole’s list.
The No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Cole established himself as a young ace across four seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates before he was traded to the Houston Astros prior to the 2018 season. He took a leap forward in Houston, improving his spin rate and altering his pitch mix to become one of the premier pitchers in baseball.
He posted his best season in 2019, leading the majors with 326 strikeouts and the American League with a 2.50 earned-run average in 212 1/3 innings. He went 20-5 and finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting to teammate Justin Verlander. He had a 1.72 ERA in five playoff starts as the Astros fell to the Washington Nationals in seven games in the World Series.
The Angels are in the market for rotation depth after their starters compiled the second-highest earned-run-average in the majors in 2019. On Wednesday, they acquired right-hander Dylan Bundy from the Baltimore Orioles for four minor leaguers. Bundy provides durability with upside. Cole would give them a bona fide ace.
The Dodgers have also met with Stephen Strasburg, the other top-tier right-hander on the market, and third baseman Anthony Rendon since the start of free agency. They also hold interest in third baseman Josh Donaldson. Like Cole, landing Strasburg and Rendon would probably require a contract longer than five years, something the Dodgers have not given to a player since Andrew Friedman became the organization’s president of baseball operations five years ago.
Strasburg is 31 and opted out of his deal, which had four years and $100 million remaining, with the Nationals days after being named World Series MVP. The 29-year-old Rendon just enjoyed his best season and displayed his elite skill set in the Nationals’ World Series run. Donaldson, meanwhile, is nearing his 34th birthday and could be added with a three- or four-year deal. He was named the National League comeback player of the year on Wednesday after clubbing 34 home runs with a .900 on-base-plus-slugging percentage for the Atlanta Braves.
If the Dodgers acquire a third baseman they would move Justin Turner, whose contract expires after next season, to another position in the infield. As for the starting rotation, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda returning from last season’s group. Friedman has said the plan is to move Julio Urías to the rotation, leaving one vacancy at the moment with prospects Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin among the in-house options.
Zack Wheeler, the most coveted of the second-tier free-agent starters, agreed to a five-year contract worth more than $100 million with the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, according to reports.
Strasburg and Cole are expected to attract significantly more money than Wheeler, who has battled injuries throughout his career, has never logged 200 innings in a season, and hasn’t made an All-Star team. The Dodgers are among the teams with interest in both. Adding either ace to the top of their rotation will not come cheap.