The Wait Is Over: Cole Was On Yankee Wish List for 11 Years, Finally He Is Wearing Pinstripes

Tracy Ringolsby

When Gerrit Cole went on the free-agent market last off-season, the Yankees didn't hesitate. The stepped up early in the bidding process with a nine-year, $324 million contract -- an offer Cole couldn't refuse.

And it's an offer the Yankees don't regret.

Cole will take the mound in the win-or-go-home Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Tampa Bay on Friday night, working on three days of rest for the first time in his career after holding the Rays scoreless for seven innings in Game 2

This is what the Yankees envisioned more than a decade ago, when their pursuit of Cole began.

They wanted to sign him out of high school. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer used the 28th selection in the first-round of the 2008 draft to select Cole out of Orange (Ca.) Lutheran High School. He made an initial offer of a $1 million signing bonus only to see him opt to accept a scholarship to play for UCLA. 

"He was considered unsignable, but with where we draft each year, to have a talent like that still on the board, we had to take a shot," said Oppenheimer. "You wish you have that ability in your organization, but the timing wasn't right for him.

"You have to give (UCLA coach) John Savage and everyone at UCLA credit. Gerrit really developed there and you have to give Gerrit credit. I like to say the best coach is the player himself and Gerrit has done a wonderful job."

Three years later, the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the first pick in the draft, selected Cole, and signed him for an $8 million bonus. The Yankees? They didn't even have their first selection that year until 50 picks later, having paid the price for signing big-league free agents.

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The Yankees, however, remained focused on Cole, and when the Pirates decided after the 2017 season to to free up payroll in what is an agonizing rebuild, trading Cole became a priority. The Yankees once again made a push to land the righthander, only to see the Pirates opt instead to deal Cole to the Astros.

Then, during the post-season last October, Cole, a pending free agent, reinforced his value to the Yankees, pitching seven shutout innings for the Astros against the Bombers in the ALCS, putting the Astros up 2-games-to-1 on the best-of-seven series that Houston eventually won in six games. 

Weeks later, Cole filed for free agency, and for the Yankees, the third time was the charm -- an expensive charm. They signed Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract.

So far, so good.

In a season disrupted by COVID-19, which led to a shortened regular season but expanded post-season, Cole takes the mound Friday night in a win-or-go-home. 

"That's why we gave him all the money," said teammate Luke Voit. "He's a stone cold killer out there. That's the guy I want on the mound. ... Gerrit on the mound, that's the best situation possible for us. We're locked and loaded."

In an as-the-world-turns moment, While Gerrit is taking the mound at Dodger Stadium, the Yankees pinning their hopes of advancing in the post-season on him, his former Astros teammates will be in Southern California, awaiting Game 1 of the ALCS on Sunday.

And Oppenheimer?

Oh, he is enjoying the post-season, but more than that he is getting the watch list ready for the next first-year player draft.

"I have work to do," he said. "I've got to make sure (Cole) is surrounded by good players for the next eight years."

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