Free agency or big payday? Cole holds all the cards in Yankees contract talks

the star of the new york yankees, gerrit cole

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For two consecutive offseasons, the New York Yankees have struggled to secure a top-tier starting pitcher to complement their 2023 Cy Young Award winner, Gerrit Cole. Now, they face the prospect of losing Cole after just one more season.

A record-breaking contract and stellar performance

gerrit-cole-new-york-yankees
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

According to Forbes, 2024 represents the fifth year in Cole’s historic nine-year contract with the Yankees, valued at $324 million, under which he earns $36 million per year. Since joining the team in 2020, Cole has emerged as a powerhouse, initiating 108 games, pitching 664 innings, and achieving a 3.08 ERA, along with an impressive tally of 816 strikeouts. His remarkable performance earned him the Cy Young Award in the previous year, topping the American League charts in pitcher WAR, ERA, innings pitched, and WHIP.

However, Cole’s contract includes an opt-out clause after the 2024 season, and the 33-year-old right-hander, barring a major injury, is likely to explore free agency, as hinted by his agent, Scott Boras, during the recent Winter Meetings.

Desperate to retain Cole, the Yankees signed left-hander Carlos Rodon a year ago to form a potent one-two punch with Cole. Unfortunately, Rodon’s inaugural year in pinstripes was marred by injuries, limiting him to 14 starts and a disappointing 6.85 ERA. This offseason, the Yankees pursued top prospect Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who, instead, joined the Los Angeles Dodgers with Shohei Ohtani.

The Yankees’ Dilemma: Extend or Let Go?

In the event Cole opts out, the Yankees have a contingency plan: adding a tenth year to his contract for an additional $36 million, keeping him in New York until the 2029 season, when he’ll be 38. While extending Cole seems logical considering his dominance, concerns arise regarding age and the risks associated with long-term contracts.

The Yankees have a history of being burned by opt-outs; both Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia opted out of contracts, receiving lucrative extensions. However, their performances declined significantly in later years, leaving the Yankees with expensive, unproductive players.

As the Yankees face a crucial decision in the coming months, extending Cole would solidify their pitching rotation but presents risks associated with aging superstar contracts. Letting him go creates a void in their pitching staff, necessitating a scramble in a competitive free-agent market.

The decision to extend Cole or let him walk hinges on the Yankees’ assessment of his future value and their willingness to take a financial gamble. Regardless, the 2024 season will be pivotal for both Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees, with major implications.

Additional considerations include the Yankees’ farm system lacking pitching prospects, making it challenging to replace Cole if he departs. The uncertainty surrounding the overall quality of free-agent starting pitchers in 2024 could limit the Yankees’ options if Cole is not extended. The team’s financial situation plays a role, as extending Cole commits them to a high payroll.

The opt-out clause in Gerrit Cole’s contract is just one factor shaping the future of the New York Yankees. The ensuing months promise speculation, negotiation, and a decision with lasting implications for the franchise.

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