The New York Yankees did it: they got their ace. With Gerrit Cole in the fold — thanks to a record-setting, nine-year, $324 million deal — the Yankees are now the team to beat in the American League.
Cole is coming off a season where he was arguably the best pitcher in Major League Baseball with the Houston Astros. Recording a 2.50 ERA and 0.89 WHIP while totaling an absurd 326 strikeouts, he was a force to be reckoned with. He has control of a high 90s fastball and throws a mean slider and curveball. These offerings were, at times, unhittable last season.
He’s a workhorse. Cole pitches deep into games, grinds through at-bats, and works out of trouble. In some ways, he’s a dinosaur. Rarely do we see elite strikeout pitchers provide the length that Cole brings to the table considering the amount of pitches it takes to buckle an offense with double-digit strikeouts.
He has put together back-to-back Cy Young Award-caliber seasons, and with the exception of his Game 1 World Series start against the Washington Nationals, Cole was lethal in the postseason. Across five starts he recorded a 1.72 ERA while logging 47 strikeouts and averaging slightly above seven innings per start.
Cole’s recent rise to prominence is eerily similar to Max Scherzer. After he put together two splendid seasons with the Detroit Tigers in 2013 and 2014, the Nationals signed Scherzer to a deal worth over $30 million a season. It’s the same story with Cole. He had elite offerings with the Pittsburgh Pirates and put it all together over the last two seasons with the Astros. Now he’s the highest-paid pitcher in MLB.
Starting pitching was the Yankees’ weakness last season.
With Cole and a healthy Luis Severino headlining their 2020 starting rotation, that Achilles heel no longer exists.
Injuries kept Severino off the field until September last season. While he was respectable in the five starts he made in the regular season and postseason, it was evident that he wasn’t his stellar self — which is one of the best starting pitchers in MLB.
In the two seasons prior to his injury-riddled 2019 campaign, Severino was the Yankees’ lead-dog. Sure, questions have mounted as to whether he’s a true ace based on his shaky postseason track record. On the other hand, when healthy, he’s a beast. He has an overpowering fastball, gets considerable movement on his off-speed pitches, and provides length. From 2017-18 Severino recorded a combined 3.19 ERA and 1.09 WHIP while logging 450 strikeouts and averaging roughly 6.1 innings per start.
James Paxton‘s debut year in the Bronx was a mixed bag. In the first half of the season he was getting lit up early in games and looked lost. Then he posted a 2.51 ERA across his last 11 starts, pitched deeper into games, and looked poised. He also threw the most underrated start of the 2019 postseason, surrendering just one run and totaling nine strikeouts across six innings in an elimination Game 5 against the Astros in the AL Championship Series — albeit the Yankees ended up losing the series.
With a year in the Big Apple and three postseason starts under his belt, Paxton should have no issue having a bounce-back season — further weaponing the Yankees rotation.
Sure, he has been inconsistent in the regular season in recent memory, but Masahiro Tanaka always shows up in big moments. He owns a career 1.76 postseason ERA, has pitched well in elimination games, and is a near lock to get halfway through a postseason outing — which is a big deal in the modern-day game.
A healthy Severino, Paxton, and Tanaka as your second, third, and fourth-best pitchers is a situation that most managers would sign up for in a heartbeat.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have one of the deepest bullpens in the sport at their disposal.
The Houston Astros still have a deep lineup of All-Star-caliber players; the Minnesota Twins have a potent offense; the Oakland Athletics have a power offense and an absurdly deep pitching staff; the Tampa Bay Rays have won 90-plus games in each of the last two seasons.
But from a talent standpoint, the Yankees are better than all of those teams. Now, to say they’re the clear-cut best team in the sport is a murky proposition.
The defending World Series-champion Nationals project to be a competitive opponent again in 2020; the Atlanta Braves are an ever-improving ballclub; the Los Angeles Dodgers are a perennial World Series contender.
Case in point: the Yankee aren’t ensured to win the World Series, rather they’re the transparent favorite to represent the AL in the Fall Classic.
Is $324 million an overpay for a pitcher who has put together just two seasons deemed remotely close to being worth a historic contract? Perhaps, but the Yankees had to make a move to end the never-ending questions about their starting rotation. They kept taking a leap of faith in their veterans, as well as internal improvement, and masked their rotation woes by beefing up their roster with power bats and relievers.
The Yankees couldn’t keep coming up short in the playoffs because they didn’t address the biggest hole on their roster. No offseason move ensures a postseason outcome. All general manager Brian Cashman and Yankees brain trust can do is put a team in place that can contend. After that, it’s on the players and Boone to get the job done in October. If they disappoint in 2020 or don’t win a World Series with Cole, they have nothing to be ashamed of.
The Yankees made the bold move fans and baseball minds have been clamoring for them to make. They made sure they didn’t lose out on Cole. They identified him as the missing piece to a World Series championship, and it’s difficult to envision how they could’ve done better.
The voids are filled, and their roster is loaded: the Yankees are built to win the World Series.