Former Houston Astros starter and Cy Young Award runner-up Gerrit Cole ended months of speculation about his next pitching destination, reaching an agreement with the New York Yankees on Tuesday night for $324 million over nine years, according to people with knowledge of the development.
It is the largest contract given to a pitcher in major league history, eclipsing the seven-year, $245-million deal the Washington Nationals gave Stephen Strasburg on Monday. Cole’s deal includes a full no-trade clause.
Cole spurned his hometown Angels for a team better positioned to return him to the playoffs. He ignored overtures from the Dodgers too, instead signing with the Yankees, whose deep pockets and stacked roster appealed to Cole. It didn’t hurt that Cole’s favorite team growing up in Orange County played 3,000 miles away in the Bronx.
“I think I attended seven games [at the old Yankee Stadium],” Cole said during the playoffs. “My favorite players were Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.”
The Angels aggressively pursued Cole. New manager Joe Maddon stumped for him at the winter meetings and recruited him in person. Billionaire owner Arte Moreno, who is a partner in the company that agreed to buy Angel Stadium and its parking lots for $325 million, had the means to offer Cole a historic deal. He wants to build a contending team around three-time MVP Mike Trout, who has played in three playoff games in his career.
Cole was open to a homecoming. After giving up one run and striking out 11 in Houston’s 11-2 win in Angel Stadium on July 18, Cole said he enjoyed pitching in front of family members and friends.
“I grew up here, watched games when they still had bleachers,” said Cole, who posted his third consecutive season of at least 200 innings, led the American League with a 2.50 ERA and struck out an MLB-high 326 batters. “It’s a really unique park. Driving up the 57 today, seeing the Big A, it’s always cool. It’s always special. In an industry where you don’t always get to see your family as much as you would like, getting to hug your mom after the game is nice.”
But the Angels lack the roster depth of the Yankees. When confronted with injuries last season, the Yankees summoned from their minor leagues players who helped them reach 103 wins. The Angels sent a franchise-high 26 players to the injured list, grappled with the opioids-related death of starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs and lost 90 games for the first time since 1999.
The Yankees do not face an uphill battle to the postseason. The Angels do. Cole would have been the clear ace of their rotation. Yet even with the expected return of Shohei Ohtani to the mound, the Angels need more than one pitcher to fortify a group that posted an American League-worst 5.64 ERA last season.
Geography, it turned out, did not tilt Cole toward the Angels. He grew up a few miles from Angel Stadium, but he was a Yankees fan as a child. He also was drafted by the Yankees out of Orange Lutheran High but opted to attend UCLA.
The Yankees met with Cole for four hours Sunday. Manager Aaron Boone came away impressed.
“Certainly when you’re talking to a guy like Gerrit Cole that’s in the prime is this career and really in tune with what he does on the mound, I think he has a great understanding of who he is at this point in his career,” Boone said.
The Angels and Dodgers will now turn their attention to other free agents and trade targets. Both teams are pursuing third baseman Anthony Rendon, the premier free-agent position player, and fallback third baseman Josh Donaldson. Starting pitchers still available include World Series veteran Madison Bumgarner, and Cole’s fellow Scott Boras clients, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel.
The Dodgers reportedly could turn to Bumgarner next, while Angels general manager Billy Eppler said he could spend more than $20 million a year on two pitchers, or on a pitcher and a position player.
“There’s more options than just one on the free-agent market,” Eppler said. “There are other options on the trade market that are frontline pitchers. . . . There are some conversations that we’re having out there in the trade market that involve [elite players].”
As for the Dodgers, manager Dave Roberts, in his first public comments since the Dodgers were bounced from the playoffs in October, predicted the roster will undergo more turnover this offseason than any other since he assumed his post in November 2015.
“I think that you’ve got to shuffle the deck sometimes,” Roberts said Tuesday. “Although we’ve had a lot of consistency . . . giving guys other opportunities, I think that’s a good thing for them. And I think that for us to keep things fresh is a good thing. I think that you don’t ever want to get stagnant and complacent.”
Roberts hinted before the season was over that the Dodgers planned to deviate from their relative reluctance to pay for premier players. They’ve spent the last six weeks swimming in the deep end of the free-agent and trade pools after having significant money come off their books. The objective is to bolster the roster with All-Star talent.
The Dodgers have options to supplement their lineup with an elite right-handed-hitting infielder should Rendon sign elsewhere. The Dodgers have kept tabs on Donaldson, who is in the market for a three- or four-year deal. On the trade front, the Chicago Cubs reportedly are open to dealing third baseman Kris Bryant and the Cleveland Indians are rumored to be willing to move switch-hitting shortstop Francisco Lindor.
“Whether it’s the starters, the ‘pen, the position player, I think, if you look at our MO, it’s more of top-tier talent, and that’s kind of all parts of the game,” Roberts said. “That’s our target.”
Gerrit Cole, however, is no longer a target, but an adversary in pinstripes.