Gerrit Cole’s opt-out clause: What it means for him, Yankees

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is with his wife Amy and two sons at Yankee Stadium during a game in 2023.

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Yankees ace Gerrit Cole proved his worth in 2023 with the Cy Young Award win. However, with the continued failure of the team to win a championship, there is concern over the potential departure of him after the upcoming season.

Entering the fifth year of his groundbreaking nine-year, $324 million contract in 2024, Gerrit Cole commands an annual salary of $36 million. Since joining the Yankees in 2020, he has contributed significantly, starting 108 games and logging 664 innings with an impressive 3.08 ERA and 816 strikeouts. His consistent excellence has earned him Cy Young votes in all four seasons, culminating in a unanimous victory last year. In 2023, Gerrit Cole led the American League in pitcher WAR (7.4), ERA (2.63), innings pitched (209), and WHIP (0.98).

Included in his contract is the option to opt out after the 2024 season, allowing Gerrit Cole the opportunity to explore free agency. Unless faced with a catastrophic injury, the 33-year-old right-handed pitcher is expected to exercise this option, a sentiment echoed by his agent, Scott Boras, during the Winter Meetings earlier this month.

Will Gerrit Cole part ways with the Yankees?

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USA today sports

To secure a reliable second starter alongside Gerrit Cole, the Yankees brought in left-hander Carlos Rodón a year ago. Rodón had showcased his skills with a 2.88 ERA over 31 starts for the San Francisco Giants in the previous season. However, his inaugural year with the Yankees was plagued by injuries, resulting in just 14 starts and a high 6.85 ERA. In the current offseason, the team aggressively pursued Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but the Japanese pitcher ultimately chose to join Shohei Ohtani with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the event that Gerrit Cole decides to exercise his opt-out clause, the Yankees possess a stipulation to nullify it. By appending a tenth year to his contract with an additional $36 million, they can secure his presence in New York until the conclusion of the 2029 season, by which time he will be 38 years old.

The prospect of extending the contract for a tenth season appears to be an obvious choice for the Yankees at this juncture. Gerrit Cole stands as arguably the premier pitcher in baseball, consistently delivering peak performances. However, the conventional trajectory for most pitchers sees a decline in effectiveness as they enter their mid to late-30s. Hence, the decision to let him depart at the age of 34 may have some strategic merit.

The historic experience

The Yankees have experienced setbacks in the past when extending contracts for players who opted out multiple times. In the initial four years of Álex Rodriguez‘s tenure with the team (2004-2007), he exhibited stellar performance, boasting a batting line of .303/.403/.573 and securing two MVP awards. However, after the 2007 season, Rodriguez chose to opt out of the final three years of his ten-year, $252 million contract.

In response, the Yankees offered a new ten-year, $275 million deal to retain him, but his on-field performance took a downturn immediately. From 2008 to 2016, he posted a batting line of .269/.359/.486, faced a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, and ultimately had to be released one and a half years before the expiration of his contract.

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MLB

CC Sabathia‘s situation in 2011 differed as he didn’t formally opt out of his contract; the Yankees proactively extended his deal before the deadline. During his initial three years with the club (2009-2011), Sabathia started 101 games, pitched 705 innings, and compiled a record of 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA. Over the subsequent five years, earning $122 million, he faced fluctuations in performance and was no longer regarded as an ace. Across 127 starts and 804 innings, he went 47-45 with a 4.25 ERA. Despite this, the Yankees extended his contract three more times, and he continued pitching for them until the conclusion of the 2019 season.

In the case of Gerrit Cole opting out after the upcoming season, the Yankees have the option to add an extra year to retain him as a pivotal figure in their rotation. However, there’s also the possibility of allowing another team to shoulder the burden of his declining years. This decision may pose challenges, especially if Gerrit Cole maintains his excellent form, particularly amid struggles from other starters in their rotation, as witnessed in the 2023 season. The status of his contract will undoubtedly be a prominent ongoing storyline in the Bronx this year.

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