Gerrit Cole, the 29-year-old right-hander who blossomed in two seasons with the Houston Astros, on Tuesday agreed to the terms of a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees, sources tell Yahoo Sports.
The contract is for nine years and worth $324 million, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports. It’s the richest contract in league history for a pitcher in overall value, besting Stephen Strasburg’s $245 million contract with the Washington Nationals. At $36 million per year, it’s also the highest average salary in MLB. Cole has an opt-out clause after his fifth season, sources tell Yahoo Sports.
Cole had a 35-10 record and 2.68 ERA as an Astro, two seasons of 200-plus innings and spikes in velocity and strikeouts that made him into one of the game’s best pitchers. He also won five postseason games for the Astros. In seven starts in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs, his ERA over 49 2/3 innings was 2.17. He had 64 strikeouts and 13 walks.
In the 2019 regular season, Cole led the game with 326 strikeouts, the most by a pitcher in 17 years and the 14th-most in history. Upon trading for him before the 2018 season, the Astros convinced Cole to abandon the contact-oriented Pittsburgh Pirates philosophy and ride his four-seam fastball to more strikeouts. He struck out nearly five more batters per nine innings in Houston than he did in Pittsburgh, a result that carried him into free agency as a potential immediate fix for sagging rotations throughout the game. He would become the undisputed ace for all but a few teams, and a co-ace for those.
In a class that included fellow starting pitchers Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-jin Ryu, Jake Odorizzi, Dallas Keuchel and Cole Hamels, Cole was widely regarded as the best among them, for making at least 32 starts in four of the past five seasons and for the regular- and postseason excellence that resulted.
He grew up in Newport Beach, California, and attended Orange Lutheran High School, about five miles from Angel Stadium. He was in the ballpark when the Angels won the 2002 World Series. He also attended UCLA, 17 miles from Dodger Stadium. For reasons of familiarity and comfort, Cole was rumored to lean toward signing with a team from the West Coast, though Cole himself never said so publicly. The Angels had the financial might and massive holes throughout their pitching staff. They also endured their worst season in two decades, fired the manager and chewed up another season of Mike Trout’s prime, and also exercised the fourth-year option on general manager Billy Eppler’s contract.
Under current ownership and general manager Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers have resisted longer-term contracts. They are believed to have offered outfielder Bryce Harper, for one, a four-year deal at an inflated average annual value. He opted for 13 years and $330 million from the Philadelphia Phillies.
The San Diego Padres, whose long-term, big-money signings of first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Manny Machado, resulted in consecutive seasons in last place in the NL West, also fit the presumed West Coast priority. They were expected to engage with Cole, along with many of the free-agent starting pitchers. Their starters pitched the second-fewest innings in the NL and posted the fourth-worst ERA.
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