SAN DIEGO – To state the obvious, it’s bad news when the best pitcher in baseball signs in your division.
Yet in the aftermath of Gerrit Cole’s record-setting, nine-year, $324-million contract with the New York Yankees, that’s the reality facing the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette & Co. can look forward to facing Cole four or five times a year for the next decade, and the Yankees – already a 103-win team – become that much harder to unseat atop the AL East.
The implications of Cole’s deal may extend even further for the Blue Jays, and not only in terms of optics. Now that the Yankees have signed Cole, his other finalists will re-engage in the pitching market, creating competition for Toronto. And the possibility of a reunion with a familiar face merits a little consideration, too.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are of particular interest here, since Blue Jays target Hyun-Jin Ryu may be more likely to return to L.A. now that Cole has agreed to terms with the Yankees. For now, at least the Dodgers appear focused elsewhere, with Madison Bumgarner atop their list, according to Ken Rosenthal.
Regardless, there’s plenty of competition in the market for pitching with the Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels viewed as major players. Considering those teams seem motivated to add, it’s likely the Blue Jays would be paying premium dollars for Ryu or Dallas Keuchel, the top pitchers remaining aside from Bumgarner.
The more likely targets for the Blue Jays are in a distinctly different tier, and while the likes of Tanner Roark, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley are all capable pitchers, they don’t match up with the newest Yankee. After what he did last year, Cole’s on a potential Hall of Fame track.
The 29-year-old posted an AL-best 2.50 ERA in 212.1 innings for the Houston Astros this year, striking out 326 hitters – or nearly two for every five batters he faced. In case that wasn’t impressive enough, he posted a 1.72 ERA in the playoffs while striking out 47 in 36.2 innings.
After that performance, some industry observers consider Cole the game’s best pitcher. And even though this year’s starting pitching class featured Stephen Strasburg and others, there’s no doubt whatsoever that Cole was the best arm available.
As Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro put it a few hours before Cole agreed to terms, “There’s a clear No. 1 in this year’s draft.”
With Cole in place alongside James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, the Yankees’ rotation looks like a clear strength. Even before the deal with Cole, the Yankees were open to dealing J.A. Happ, who will earn $17 million in 2020 with a vesting option for 2021. That’s an overpay for a 37-year-old who posted a 4.91 ERA last year, so the Yankees would have to kick in money and/or prospects to get something done.
On paper, the Blue Jays could be a suitor for Happ, a veteran of two stints in Toronto already, and they have made a preliminary inquiry about him, as Andy Martino of SNY reported first. But unless the Yankees were to offset his contract with a significant prospect return it’s hard to see a reunion with the left-hander, well-liked and durable as he is.
Once Cole’s deal becomes official, he’ll displace Strasburg atop the list of biggest pitching contracts ever just one day after Strasburg passed David Price. But even after negotiating the Strasburg and Cole deals, agent Scott Boras still has plenty of work ahead. He represents Anthony Rendon, the top position player available, plus Ryu and Keuchel, two pitchers on the Blue Jays’ radar.
“The (Blue Jays) have been consistent in their interest levels, and have been in communication with us at the GM meetings and here,” Boras told a large gathering of reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Maybe those discussions will lead somewhere, or maybe not. This much is clear, though: the Yankees just became a lot harder to beat. For a Blue Jays team looking to transition out of their rebuild and into contention, the path to the post-season is now considerably tougher.