SAN DIEGO — The New York Yankees are back. Back to free-agent excess. Back to blowing away the rest of the market for free agents. Back to being at the head of baseball’s tycoon-class.
And — pay attention because this is now the most pressing part — back to skyscrapers-sized expectations.
Agreeing to a reported nine-year, $324 million contract with top free agent Gerrit Cole on Tuesday night signaled both a record free-agent deal for a pitcher (Stephen Strasburg’s record lasted a whole day) and a new reality for these Yankees.
After a couple years of uncharacteristic scrappiness, in which they won despite injuries and taped together a lineup with discarded free agents, the Yankees of old are back. That means one important thing — no excuses.
The Yankees have to win the World Series in 2020. Anything less is a failure. Regardless of injuries, circumstance or any kind of October magic a wild-card team cooks up.
It’s a 28th ring or it’s disappointment. There is no in-between. You punt on the in-between when you when give Gerrit Cole an annual salary that could pay him $1.1 million per start. You punt on the in-between when not even a week ago, you were willing to give Cole $245 million over seven years and then added almost another $80 million.
You don’t give $324 million to Gerrit Cole to compete with the Rays for a division title or play a nail-biter ALCS against the Houston Astros. You spend that type of money for a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
The good news is the Yankees, with Cole as their ace, have every bit the talent to start dreaming about World Series ring designs. This is a team that won 103 games last season while withstanding a record list of injuries and turning to the likes of Mike Tauchman and Luke Voit to carry their offense at times. It almost seemed like voodoo the way Yankees players were hitting the injury list and they kept winning despite it all.
Now there’s a chance for a healthy Yankees team AND Gerrit Cole? That’s a horror movie for the rest of the American League.
Cole joins James Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation. He comes to a team that might actually have a deeper lineup than the stacked one he just left in Houston — Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez.
As the Red Sox try to retool their roster and there are rumors of the Astros trying to figure out how to be more cost-conscious as some of their boppers approach free agency, everything is lining up for the Yankees to become the Death Star Yankees.
As good as things were for the Yankees last season, there was also some desperation here. If not from the front office itself from a fanbase that is accustomed to winning.
After losing to Cole and the Astros in six games in the ALCS, the Yankees finished outside of the World Series yet again. The 2010s became the first decade since the 1910s that the Yankees didn’t advance to at least one World Series.
They spent $2 billion on salaries in those 10 seasons, according to the Wall Street Journal, and have zero rings to show for it. There are certain cities and certain fanbases for whom winning division titles is enough. This is not that city nor that fanbase.
The Yankees didn’t sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado last season despite years of assumptions that they’d get one of both of them. That led to even more disgruntlement from their World Series-or-bust fanbase. But balking at Harper and Machado put the Yankees in a position to not get outbid for the player they really wanted. Patience and discretion, it turns out, is in the Yankees’ playbook.
Which is why we’re here right now and why Gerrit Cole will shave off that scruffy beard, put on the pinstripes, cash bigger checks that he probably ever dreamed of and become the new great hope of the Yankees.
You can buy a lot of hope for $324 million. Perhaps too much. But Cole seems to be the type of embrace this moment.
The spotlight. The expectations. All of it. No excuses, right?
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