The Yankees have handed out contracts worth north of $100 million to eight players, with varying returns on those significant expenditures. It’s not only been a while since they’ve signed a nine-figure deal — relatively speaking, of course — but it’s been a while since they were truly invested in a high-dollar bidding war, and the hesitancy is at least understandable.
The last such deal happened in 2014. Deals, actually. The Yankees gave Masahiro Tanaka a seven-year, $155 million deal that’s actually worked out pretty well, though not best-case scenario — the right-hander has averaged 27 starts a year, with a 3.75 ERA. A little more than a month before Tanaka, though, the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal that’s been a disaster. Well, was a disaster. The Yankees parted ways with him recently, eating the more than $26 million remaining on his deal.
If the Yankees — and, maybe just as importantly, their increasingly anxious fans — get their way, though, that streak will end this offseason. There are two elite, top-of-the-rotation aces on the market, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, and the Yankees seem to be hell-bent on landing one of the two.
Ken Rosenthal, writer for The Athletic (and TSN alum!), reported Tuesday that the Yankees are meeting with both players this week. The headline included the word “intensifies” and the first sentence had “starting to accelerate” featured prominently. After a couple of slow offseasons, that’s exciting for a December column.
Even the official MLB Twitter account is pumped.
— MLB (@MLB) December 3, 2019
Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the meeting with Cole is happening Tuesday and the meeting with Strasburg is happening Wednesday.
As Sherman pointed out in his column, the fact that the Yankees are traveling to meet with both right-handers shows a level of investment that they haven’t shown with free agents recently; last year, Patrick Corbin — who signed a $140 million deal with the Nationals and helped his new team to the 2019 World Series title — had to travel to Yankee Stadium to meet with the Bronx bosses.
It’s been a decade since the Yankees accomplished what Corbin and his Nationals teammates did in October, and that’s too long for the franchise with the most World Series titles in baseball history. The Yankees, as was trumpeted by Yankees-haters everywhere, didn’t even make the final round in the 2010s, the first decade without an appearance since the 1910s.
So, yeah, there’s a sense of urgency.
Cole seems to be the primary target, and the Yankees’ connections/fascination with him have been widely reported. They drafted him in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft out of high school but weren’t able to sign him. They targeted him as a trade get when the Pirates were shopping him after the 2017 season, but didn’t meet Pittsburgh’s price.
So now, maybe on their third opportunity, they’ll land Cole. And if Cole prefers the West Coast — he’s a Southern California guy — maybe the Yankees convince Strasburg to join their World Series quest.
Either way, the cost will be high. Cole, who is two years younger than Strasburg, at 29, will receive the largest contract ever for a pitcher (David Price’s $217 million deal tops the list for the moment), and Strasburg’s AAV will be in the same ballpark as Justin Verlander’s record ($33 million a year).
After a decade away from the World Series, those are both bidding wars the Yankees need to be involved in, and Yankees fans have to be happy their team is aggressively going after both starters.