Yankees should be proactive following Gerrit Cole news -- not breathing a sigh of relief

It’s obviously not the worst news the Yankees could have received on Gerrit Cole, after Dr. Neal ElAttrache confirmed the team’s own diagnosis that their ace won’t need Tommy John surgery.

But calling it good news, as seems to be the general sentiment, is assuming an awful lot about how Cole’s arm, not to mention his head, will respond to the prescribed rest and treatment for the next several weeks.

Or to put it another way: Can PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections save the Yankees’ season?

Even if Cole’s elbow does respond to such treatment over the next several weeks, you have to wonder about his state of mind. He already knew there was no tear in his ligament, based on the MRI report, yet he felt the need to fly to California to meet with ElAttrache, which tells you he was at least somewhat freaked out by whatever discomfort he’s feeling in the elbow.

Maybe it’s just that Cole has been so durable during his 11-year career, making 30 or more starts in each of the last six full MLB seasons, that he’s never dealt with this type of discomfort.

But that’s the point: If he’s worrying that the next 96 mph fastball he throws could be his last for quite a while, does such fear linger even if and when he gets the go-ahead to pitch again?

Will he feel the need to dial back the velocity at all or shy away from throwing his slider, the pitch that is notoriously hardest on the elbow?

It’s worth remembering that Masahiro Tanaka pitched successfully for years even after the Yankees discovered a tear in his elbow ligament, but he was also a craftsman who leaned heavily on his off-speed stuff and splitter to make up for the downturn in velocity the injury caused.

Cole, on the other hand, has always been the definition of a power pitcher, at his best when attacking hitters aggressively with his mid-to-high 90s fastball. So, again, you wonder how he’ll adjust if compromised at all in terms of his velo.

The Yankees should be taking all of that into consideration, not merely breathing a sigh of relief that they avoided the worst-case scenario.

Banking on the notion that Cole will be pitching like his Cy Young Award-winning self again by June, July or any time this season would be a potentially foolish mistake. Mets fans went through it for a couple of seasons, watching Jacob deGrom repeatedly sidelined with elbow issues until he finally blew out the ligament last season with the Texas Rangers, requiring the second Tommy John surgery of his career.

It would be a different story if the Yankees had no other options but to hope for the best.

Instead it is their good fortune that there are two high-level pitchers, in Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, still available as a free agents during the Yankees’ time of crisis.

Jordan Montgomery
Jordan Montgomery / Kevin Jairaj - USA TODAY Sports

They should take advantage of such luck and sign one of them, if indeed they are truly as all-in as they want their fans to believe, with Juan Soto only guaranteed to be in the Bronx for one year and the rest of their win-now lineup showing some age.

They were willing to spend big for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and instead wound up signing Marcus Stroman on a relatively bargain contract. So why aren’t they willing to pony up now for another starting pitcher?

Even before the Cole injury, many scouts thought the Yankees were a quality pitcher short of having a championship-caliber rotation, largely because of lingering questions about Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon.

And can we stop with the luxury tax implications of signing Snell or Montgomery? Fans spend a fortune going to Yankee games; Hal Steinbrenner can take the luxury-tax hit and be just fine, thank you.

Also, I don’t understand the argument that there is no replacing Cole. With Cole sidelined you would be replacing his replacement, whether it’s Luke Weaver or Cody Poteet.

Snell may have warts, which is why he’s still unsigned for the price Scott Boras has been asking, but he also has a crazy high-ceiling that he achieved in 2023 and could be a difference-maker for a team trying to win a championship.

That said, because Snell would also cost the Yankees draft picks, Montgomery is an easier sell. He proved his mettle in the postseason last year for the Rangers and would provide certainty in the rotation, if not a true ace.

And while Montgomery apparently has hard feelings toward the Yanks over being traded, as well as for the way they pushed their analytic approach on his pitch selection, you’d have to believe that could be resolved with the right offer, especially since the lefty has to be itching to sign somewhere.

Even if Cole were to return and pitch well, Montgomery would deepen the Yankees' rotation -- no small matter considering Cortes, Rodon, and Stroman all missed time in 2023 with injuries -- and make them a tougher out in October.

In truth, however, the Yankees have no assurances about Cole. They have hope now that he’ll be back, but for a power pitcher dealing with the fears and doubts of an elbow injury for perhaps the first time, there are miles to go before hope becomes reality.

As such, the Yankees shouldn’t take a sigh-of-relief diagnosis as a reason to believe all is well. Not with so much at stake this season.