The Dodgers made Gerrit Cole their top priority from the start of the offseason. They held a four-hour meeting with him and his representatives in Newport Beach the week of Thanksgiving. They emerged optimistic and remained so until Tuesday night.
Ultimately, their bid fell short. Cole agreed to a nine-year, $324-million deal with the New York Yankees on Tuesday. The contract breaks the total value and annual average record for a pitcher. The Dodgers were willing to set the mark for Cole, too, and commit more money to him than any other player in franchise history. Their final offer was eight years for $300 million, though it included deferrals, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The Angels lagged behind them in the bidding war with an eight-year offer south of $300 million with deferrals.
The Dodgers had envisioned Cole tag-teaming with Walker Buehler atop their rotation, giving them a deadly one-two punch for October. They can add another pitcher through free agency or trade, but one of Cole’s caliber isn’t available. Cole is a bona fide ace. The best players left on the market would be No. 2 starters at best. The list includes free agents Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel. The Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber is another possibility through a trade.
The Dodgers’ pursuit of elite talent is not limited to starting pitching. They want to add a high-end reliever for late-inning outs and a premium right-handed batter. They remain in the race for third baseman Anthony Rendon, the best free agent remaining, but aren’t confident that they will land him. The Angels, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies are also in the hunt for Rendon, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity. Rendon is expected to secure a deal of at least seven years and more than the $215-million, deferral-heavy offer he received from the Nationals at the end of the regular season.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson is a fallback option in free agency. He will take a shorter contract, but an average annual value of at least $20 million. The trade market is less clear, but several possibilities are in the primes of elite careers. They include Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Among relief pitchers, the Milwaukee Brewers are reportedly open to trading left-hander Josh Hader. He’s arguably been the best reliever in the majors the past three seasons, but high usage and relative regression in 2019 could be red flags. The Dodgers have interest in 31-year-old right-handed free agents Blake Treinen and Dellin Betances, both of whom could be bought low after forgettable 2019 seasons.
Treinen was perhaps the best reliever in the majors with the Oakland Athletics in 2018 before compiling a 4.91 earned-run average in 2019. Betances made four All-Star teams and posted a 2.36 ERA in eight seasons with the Yankees, but appeared in just one game in 2019 because of shoulder and Achilles’ injuries.