Gerrit Cole is a Yankee. From that one sentence, you know that this is good for Cole, and the Yankees, and Scott Boras. (And if you want more than that one sentence, Tom Verducci wrote many sentences about it here.) But what about the rest of baseball? Here’s your rundown on what Cole’s signing means for…
…The Teams Who Lost Out: Angels and Dodgers
Even before the start of this offseason, Cole’s free agency was often forecast for one of two directions: He’d go to New York to join the Yankees, or he’d return home to Southern California with either the Angels or the Dodgers. Each of the latter two teams are said to have made serious pushes (if not as serious as $324 million), and now they’re left to look at other options.
For the Angels, it’s a reminder of just how much has to be done about their pitching. Even if they had added Cole, they’d still have to pursue someone else to round out their rotation. Such is life after a team’s starters finish with an AL-worst 5.36 ERA—Shohei Ohtani should return to the mound next season, and Dylan Bundy was just acquired via trade, but even so, there’s a lot of room to improve here. GM Billy Eppler told the Los Angeles Times that he’s in a spot to “spend more than $20 million a year on two pitchers, or on a pitcher and a position player,” and while both paths are valid, it would be reasonable to prioritize the former over the latter.
The Dodgers’ pursuit of Cole, meanwhile, wasn’t so anchored to the needs of their rotation. Their roster is sufficiently well-rounded to have put them in the position of going after an elite addition, generally, rather than an elite starter, specifically. This doesn’t mean that they’re not going to pursue another starter but it does probably mean that their more relevant pursuit now is that of Anthony Rendon (or Francisco Lindor).
…The Top Pitchers Left on the Market: Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Dallas Keuchel
There are still plenty of teams that would like to add starting pitching—in addition to the aforementioned two, there are the Twins, White Sox, and Brewers, to name a few—and there’s a solid group of second-tier starters still available.
Do the deals for Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Zack Wheeler mean that these other pitchers will profit more than predicted, too? It’s hard to say. On one hand, the tiers are so clear this winter (Cole and Strasburg, then Wheeler, then everyone else) that there may not be much of a link here. On the other, the big names are off the board early, so there’s more time for teams to understand what they have to do to get what they need, and that should benefit the pitchers who remain.
…The Other Top Free Agent: Anthony Rendon
Cole's deal works in Rendon’s favor. The third baseman had already been linked to the Dodgers and Angels, and now they’re under more pressure to make a move, which may drive up the price from other suitors such as the Rangers and Phillies. All eyes are on Rendon now, and that’s all he could have asked for.
…The Big Picture: Baseball’s Notion of Villainy
The Yankees’ status as baseball’s villains has long been central to their identity. And then, last year, it was… gone? The 2019 Yankees did not feel remotely villainous. They were full of names that no one had ever heard of. They were enjoyable. They were scrappy. The story of their season was one of beat-the-odds success.
Of course, this switch didn’t come from a reorientation of organizational strategy; it was the result of bad health and bad luck. It was temporary. And now it’s over. Cole’s deal is a perfect villain move: The Yankees get what they’ve wanted all along, their white whale, by paying more than anyone had envisioned. It is not that they didn’t want to be denied so much as that they ensured they couldn’t be. It’s so in character that it borders on self-parody.
Which is great! It’s all that baseball could ask for. It’s the villainy of a wrestling heel—clear-cut, over-the-top, itself both end and means—rather than anything truly sinister. It comes pre-loaded with all sorts of fun narratives. The Yankees want to win, and they’re going for it with everything that they have. That makes for an Evil Empire, sure, but a fun one to watch. (Or hate-watch, as the case may be.)