By Lenn Robbins
The elephant that once resided in the Yankees clubhouse has been replaced by a mammoth elephant of a contract.
The Yankees reportedly got their guy, agreeing to terms with pitcher Gerritt Cole, the unquestioned No.1 free agent on the market. The cost was staggering, shattering every baseball contract and then some.
For the chance to field another dynasty, the Yankees will pay Cole a reported $324 million over nine years. And dynasty is what this is about, not one World Series championship, but several.
Of course, the fact that the Yankees haven’t paraded down the Canyon of Heroes in a decade was the driving force in acquiring Cole. Ten years without that 28th championship is hard time for a franchise that measures success in rings or bust.
It’s amazing how quickly the Yankees’ years of fiscal restraint went over the short porch in right. That’s what happens when the Yankees have to watch the Red Sox celebrate twice in the last 10 years.
Hal Steinbrenner might not be impetuous like his late father but he too is a competitor, one who fully understands the Yankees don’t compete for the A.L. East title. They compete for historic success, which required a historic contract.
Cole’s deal shatters the seven-year, $245 million contract the Nationals ponied up to retain Stephen Strasburg. Cole’s $36 million per season also eclipses Mike Trout’s $35.54 million per season.
It’s almost as much as Mayor Pete’s city of South Bend, Indiana’s 2020 budget of $358 million. Cole’s signing automatically makes the 2020 Yankees the favorite to win the World Series.
At the age of 29, Cole is at the peak of his game. He went 20-5 last season with a career-best 2.50 ERA. His 326 strikeouts (also a career best) broke the Astros single season record of 313 set by J.R. Richard 40 years ago.
The Yankees now have a starting rotation that is as formidable as their lineup.
Cole becomes the ace followed by James Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka in some order. Remember, the Yankees didn’t have Severino for most of last season. Now they have Cole, Severino, a workhorse in Tanaka, and a Paxton who adjusted to New York and got stronger as the season went along.
All this can only translate into success if the Yankees do what they did just before the turn of the century – three straight titles and four in five years. That’s what $324 million buys – the next elephant in the room.