Is Gerrit Cole the greatest free-agent pitcher of all time? It’s not hard to fathom.
It wasn’t long ago that Max Scherzer was a hot-ticket free agent and signed for mega bucks, but Scherzer was two years older than Cole is now, and had worse career numbers than Cole does right now. While Cole doesn’t have a Cy Young to his name, one could be coming his way in the next few weeks. Should that happen, watch out, record books.
MORE: Was the Astros’ 2019 season a failure?
With the rumors and reports that Cole wants to go back to his home coast — something tells me that’s nothing more than a negotiating tactic, though — there are three teams on this list who could meet Cole’s asking price, one that’s a bit of a surprise and five who would welcome the ace’s services.
Los Angeles Angels
What a 2020 rotation could look like: Gerrit Cole, Griffin Canning, Andrew Heaney, Dillon Peters, (???)
Arte Moreno has never been afraid to flex his financial muscle. Look at the mega-extension for mega-star Mike Trout and outfield mate Justin Upton. If you want to go a little further back, look at prior offseasons in which the Angels brough in Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols. On contract value alone, Moreno and the Angels spent nearly half a billion dollars on those three players. The Angels’ spending habits likely won’t change with Gerrit Cole hitting the market.
If there was ever a time for blank checks to be handed out to a starting pitcher, it’s now. The Angels must go all-in to win a World Series with one of the greatest players baseball has ever seen.
That’s not to say Gerrit Cole is the difference between a World Series or not for the Angels, because there are still very, very clear rotation issues outside Griffin Canning, who had a good rookie showing. The Matt Harvey experiment didn’t work out, and the death of Tyler Skaggs also left the Angels with a hole to fill in the rotation.
They still have plenty of holes they need to fill this offseason, but having Cole on the pitching staff obviously won’t hurt them at all, either now or in the next five seasons.
Los Angeles Dodgers
What a 2020 rotation could look like: Gerrit Cole, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Dustin May.
Both Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu hit free agency this year, but if the Dodgers aren’t going to re-sign either, why not go for the jugular and bring in Cole?
A 1-2-3 of Cole, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw is pretty damn good, right? Among the three of them, there’s a potential for 800 strikeouts: Buehler whiffed 215 batters in 182 1/3 innings pitched last season, while Kershaw got 189 batters strike out in 178 1/3 innings. Cole struck out 326 batters in the majors last season, which was far and away the best mark in the sport. Teams salivate at that these days, even if it makes some fans sick.
With that top three in the rotation, with some Dustin May sprinkled in, the Dodgers will once again have one of the best rotations in baseball, even with two key members potentially leaving in free agency.
San Diego Padres
What their 2020 rotation could look like: Gerrit Cole, Chris Paddack, Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Dinelson Lamet.
The Padres have shown they’re not afraid to make it rain in free-agent meetings. They stunned the baseball world by signing Manny Machado to his 10-year, $300 million deal last offseason, signed Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million deal the prior offseason and even extended Wil Myers to a hefty deal before then.
The Padres have been rumored to want veteran starting pitching in the past, with Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel and Noah Syndergaard being attached to signing and trade rumors as recently as this season, and Cole checks all the boxes of everything they, and Cole, want.
The Dads are in an incredibly enviable position right now: They are loaded with young talent in the rotation, have cornerstone pieces in the field and in the farm system and aren’t afraid to spend money to get over the hump. It almost seems like too good of a match for both sides for it to not happen.
If the Padres want to stop playing second — or third or fourth — fiddle in the NL West, then maybe Cole is the next big splash they need to make.
What a 2020 rotation could look like: Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., José Urquidy.
Could the Astros be in for a reunion with Cole? Maybe. Owner Jim Crane has been non-committal to bringing Cole back in several interviews; it’s a replay of what we saw last season with Dallas Keuchel, after all. Adding to the uncertainty is this little tidbit from immediately after Game 7:
Gerrit Cole was asked to speak to the media postgame.
The soon to be free agent said,
“Do I have to do it? Technically, I’m unemployed.”
Cole was kind enough to oblige then said..
“It was a pleasure to play in Houston.”#WorldSeries
— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) October 31, 2019
With the Astros needing more rotation help to go along with Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander, they could certainly bring Cole back. They are the fourth-largest market in the country, after all, and have locked up Alex Bregman and José Altuve to contract extensions, so they might not have to worry about paying guys any time soon. A rotation of Cole, Verlander, Greinke, a returning Lance McCullers Jr. and José Urquidy certainly looks like it could compete for another World Series, right?
The Astros, fresh off another World Series appearance, shouldn’t rest on its laurels. The Astros have done a good job to stay hungry as a squad, and the front office has done an even better job of reinforcing areas of need since winning World Series in 2017 (the Zack Greinke acquisition, for example). For a team that values starting pitching as much as the Astros do, it would be surprising if Houston doesn’t even approach Boras with some kind of offer. It would be a mistake.
New York Yankees
What a 2020 rotation could look like: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Montgomery.
A lot of whether the Yankees even attempt to make a move on Cole is predicated on whether they feel like spending money. In years past, we’ve seen that not be the case: While they’ve spent, the blank checks that George Steinbrenner used to carry around in his coat pocket seem to have been shredded.
The last time the Yankees gave big money to a starting pitcher, it worked out: CC Sabathia headed up the Yankee rotation for their 2009 World Series romp, and was the rock of their staff for years after that. While starting pitching signings and trades have been a mixed bag at best for the Yankees, that shouldn’t deter them for wanting a bona-fide ace at the top of their rotation.
The Yankees have been attached to Cole in the past: they drafted him, but Cole went to UCLA instead. They were linked in trade talks with the Pirates, to which Brian Cashman admitted to, but didn’t increase their offer to acquire him. Cole victimized the Yankees this postseason in Game 3 of the ALCS, working through seven innings of shutout baseball on a night where he didn’t have his best stuff.
Signing Cole would be twofold: not only do you supplement your staff, getting your long-desired ace to the rotation, but they also hurt any and all other heavy hitters looking to get Cole and make a run at a World Series. If there was ever a time for the Yankees to get back to their big-spending ways, it would be for Cole.