There's no question Gerrit Cole will be the most sought after free agent this winter. He should be the most handsomely paid, too.
Despite a sluggish free agency period last winter that forced many players to settle for below-market deals, the top tier of players still raked in monster deals (with humongous extensions for Mike Trout and Nolan Arenado to boot). It wouldn't be a surprise to see things play out similarly this offseason, meaning Cole appears on track to surpass David Price’s $217 million deal en route to the most expensive pitcher contract ever.
Who are the favorites to break the bank for Cole and lock up the potential AL Cy Young Award winner? Let’s assess his suitors as free agency gets underway.
Dark Horses: Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers
Who doesn't love a good #MysteryTeam? Texas has the money to pursue a nine-figure free agent before its new ballpark opens next year, though the Rangers’ track record with starting pitchers has been mediocre for some time.
St. Louis’s roster can contend for the National League pennant in 2020 following a run to the NLCS this year, and there is an impressive crop of young arms on Mike Shildt’s staff. Cole could be the ace that puts the Redbirds over the top, yet it’s unlikely St. Louis is willing to dole out major cash with five years left on Paul Goldschmidt’s contract.
Perhaps we should slide Los Angeles into the contenders column after a disheartening NLDS exit, though the franchise’s history suggests a reticence toward signing a big-money asset such as Cole. An annual value over $30 million won’t scare Los Angeles. Eight years will.
5. San Diego Padres
Stephen Strasburg will get more buzz as a potential addition in San Diego given his local ties, though we shouldn’t discount the Padres from the Cole sweepstakes. They have accelerated their franchise’s timeline after signing Manny Machado, and adding Cole could further vault San Diego up the crowded National League power rankings.
The Padres haven’t hesitated to spend big in recent seasons, and those contracts could inhibit them from chasing Cole if the price becomes exorbitant. Eric Hosmer is owed $21 million per year through 2021. Wil Myers will make $22 million each season through 2022. Add in Machado’s monstrous salary, and San Diego’s wallet quickly thins. The Padres spent plenty in the last two seasons, foolishly so in the case of Hosmer. It could cost them Cole.
4. Houston Astros
In terms of pitching success, it’s hard to argue any team other than Houston is the best for Cole to sign with. The Astros are the premier pitching Svengali in the game, resurrecting careers and launching top-end starters toward historic heights. Cole had electric stuff in Pittsburgh. The Astros unlocked a new level of dominance.
The track record and comfort of returning to the same team work in Houston's favor. But how likely is it the club will win a bidding war? That’s the greater question. The Astros have already shelled out major money for Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Presumably the Astros would also like to dish out extensions to cornerstones George Springer and Carlos Correa soon. Adding another $200-250 million isn’t in line with Houston’s history. It seems most likely the Astros will be relegated to just one ace in 2020.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper’s $330 million contract last offseason was Philadelphia’s first move toward World Series contention, but it was far from the last. The Phillies signed Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal, traded for J.T. Realmuto and attempted to shore up their bullpen by signing David Robertson. The result was a fourth-place finish in the NL East and a quick dismissal of Gabe Kapler. Expectations remain high entering 2020.
Philadelphia had the No. 12 rotation ERA in the National League last season, and only Aaron Nola posted a sub-4.00 ERA among the eight pitchers to log 10-plus starts. Do the Phillies still have "stupid money" to spend? The guess here is yes. The only question is how high the bidding for Cole goes.
2. New York Yankees
Will Brian Cashman snag the premier pitcher on the market? New York eschewed deals for Cole and Justin Verlander in recent seasons, and Washington beat the Yankees in the Patrick Corbin sweepstakes. Cashman will point to the trade for James Paxton as a major addition, though that logic won’t go far with Yankees fans.
Cashman’s maneuvers over the last few seasons deserve a heaping of praise. He built one of the deepest roster in baseball last season to keep New York on a winning track amid countless injuries. But it don’t mean a thing without the ring. Cole is a bankable playoff ace, one who would make New York the clear-cut leader for the AL crown. After three disappointing playoff exits, it may be time for Cashman and Co. to splurge on their first starting pitcher since they did so for CC Sabathia 10 years ago.
1. Los Angeles Angels
Is there no place like home for Gerrit Cole? The Newport Beach, Calif. native could pitch for the Angels in nearby Anaheim for the next decade, and the franchise’s current construction suggests urgency to become a playoff contender in 2020, and a title contender in 2021. Trout assuaged the Angels’ greatest fears and signed a historic contract extension in March. It’s time for the organization to meet him halfway. Shohei Ohtani should return healthy in 2020. Jo Adell will be Trout’s outfield partner sooner than later. The Angels even spent big on a manager this offseason and brought in Joe Maddon. The infrastructure for a winner is in place. Cole could be the missing piece as the Angels look to capitalize on Trout’s superhuman abilities.