The Yankees had to have CC Sabathia. They had to. The problem was Sabathia didn’t want to be a Yankee. As a 28-year-old free agent, he wanted to move home to California to pitch. He initially turned down Brian Cashman’s lucrative six-year, $140 million offer, and after Cashman told Sabathia’s agents he would be willing to travel to California to meet with the left-hander to negotiate, he was on his way to Vallejo. They landed on seven years and $161 million. At the time, it was the biggest contract for a pitcher in history.
The Yankees have to have Gerrit Cole. They have to. The problem is the Yankees most likely won’t offer what Cole is looking for, and after drafting him and losing him and then being unable to trade for him, the Yankees could miss out on Cole for a third time.
I have given up expecting the Yankees to better their team and fill necessary holes if it means paying significant dollars, and Cole is going to command significant dollars in what will most likely be the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher. Eleven years ago, the Yankees didn’t care about setting the record for giving Sabathia the largest pitching contract at the time, all they cared about was winning as they kept increasing their offer to Sabathia, outbidding themselves to make sure he chose the East Coast over the West Coast.
The Yankees were unwilling to take on Justin Verlander’s salary at the 2017 waiver deadline, and he single-handedly swung the 2017 ALCS in the Astros’ favor by winning Games 2 and 6. After coming within a game of the 2017 World Series, the 2018 Yankees’ payroll was cut by $50 million. After falling short again in 2018 because of their starting pitching, the Yankees were unwilling to give Patrick Corbin an additional year on his offer and he ended up in Washington. The Yankees have had several chances to drastically upgrade their rotation either through free agency or a trade over the last three seasons and they have come up short each time, unwilling to offer enough money or unwilling to depart with their prospects. And to no surprise, they have been eliminated by better starting pitching in each of the last three postseasons.
Cashman can defend the financial spending of his boss like he comically did at this end-of-the-season press conference, but everyone knows the Yankees don’t spend like they used to. Despite revenues being at an all-time high in baseball, the Yankees’ payroll has essentially stayed the same, or at times been less than it was 15 years ago when revenues were nowhere near what they are today. Cashman can keep preaching that the 2019 Yankees were “a play or two away” from going to the World Series and not “a player or two away.” Maybe so, but had the Yankees somehow been able to win Game 6 in extra innings and overcome Cole in Game 7, how were they going to actually win the World Series? Or has the goal changed to just getting there since the team has been unable to do that for 10 straight years. Zack Britton openly admitted the bullpen was exhausted after the ALCS and it was obvious with Chad Green laboring in Games 4 and 6 and Tommy Kahnle pitching like his elbow or shoulder might give at any moment. The Yankees’ bullpen-heavy approach to the postseason didn’t work again this October and it has yet to ever work for them. There’s a reason why the two teams with Verlander, Cole, Zack Greinke, Corbin, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were in the World Series and the team asking their bullpen to get 15 outs each postseason game wasn’t.
Hal Steinbrenner has already alluded to the idea of the Yankees not signing Cole or Strasburg or any available high-salary starting pitcher. He has already given a sneak preview to their excuse that getting a full season of Luis Severino and the return of Jordan Montgomery as in-house upgrades are just as good as upgrading through free agency. Cashman has told the media he is “interested” in Cole and Strasburg and Zack Wheeler and that he has already talked to their agents. The Yankees are making it known to their fan base that they are once again doing the bare minimum, but be prepared for the statements from Cashman and the front office about getting “outbid by a number they were comfortable with” sometime between now and spring training.
As it stands, the Yankees’ 2020 rotation will include Severino and Montgomery both coming off nearly an entire missed season, James Paxton who has never pitched more than 160 1/3 innings in a season and has never avoided the injured list in a season, Masahiro Tanaka, who has somehow avoided elbow surgery all these years later, and J.A. Happ, who will be 37-and-a-half years old in April and pitched every bit like his age last season. After those five, there’s a suspension yet to be determined, and the hope that Deivi Garcia will become a true front-end starter. If not, the Yankees could always use Nestor Cortes every five days again when one of their starters inevitably goes on the injured list.
Cashman likes to refer to “boxes being checked” when talking about newly-acquired Yankees or prospects. Well, Cole checks every box the Yankees need to be checked. He’s a durable, power, starting pitcher and true No. 1. He’s what Severino has been at times, except all the time, and what the Yankees haven’t consistently had since they signed Sabathia. Like Sabathia, all Cole will cost is money, which is something the Yankees used to use to their advantage to create the best possible roster.
It’s not that the Yankees aren’t a playoff team without Cole, it’s that they aren’t a championship team without him, and isn’t being a championship team the goal here? At least it used to be.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!