Gerrit Cole and the Brinks trucks carrying his staggering nine-year, $324 million contract rolls into The Bronx this week, when the stud right-hander will be introduced at a Yankee Stadium press conference that will be drowning in the bells and whistles the club saves for high-profile acquisitions.
There will be talk of the 29-year-old Cole leading the franchise to multiple World Series titles, tales of him growing up in Southern California a Yankees fan and big doses of hope will be in the air.
And when Cole splits for his Orange County home, the Yankees’ front office will continue to look at acquiring a left-handed bat. Because the only position a left-handed hitter can be squeezed into is first base, that should likely be the fit.
“Our lineup is very right-handed,’’ vice president and assistant GM Michael Fishman said on the way out of the Winter Meetings in San Diego on Thursday. “Ultimately, we are trying to find the best players. If it can balance the lineup, even better. It’s good to balance the lineup with another lefty.’’
Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman could be the only two left-handed hitters on the 26-man roster taking aim at the cozy right-field dimensions of the Stadium. Tyler Wade is a switch hitter who isn’t a lock to make the team, and switch-hitter Aaron Hicks isn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery until June at the earliest.
After dropping a record deal on Cole, which puts them over the third level ($248 million) of the luxury tax, and watching the left-handed hitting Didi Gregorius leave for Philly and Austin Romine to Detroit (for a combined $18 million) the Yankees aren’t likely to be spending more at first base, where they have Luke Voit and Mike Ford.
The right-handed hitting Voit is rebounding from hernia surgery that wrecked the second half of his season, and the lefty swinging Ford gets a look based on him hitting .259 with 12 homers and driving in 25 runs in 50 games.
Of course, DJ LeMahieu, who will handle second with Gleyber Torres moving to short, can also play first, where he started 28 games a year ago and all nine in the postseason.
So who is the best left-handed hitting first baseman on the free-agent market? A healthy Greg Bird, who the Yankees dropped from the roster and became a free agent.
Even if they were inclined to spend, the first base group of free agents is underwhelming. Switch-hitter Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland are the likely two best options.
As for trade options to acquire a left-handed bat, the Yankees have pieces led by Miguel Andujar, who could get spring training work at first.
The Orioles would love to move left-handed hitting first baseman Chris Davis, who is owed $69 million for the next three years. If that doesn’t make him impossible to deal, he hit .179 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs in 105 games this past year when he fanned 139 times. In the past three seasons, Davis has hit .188 with 54 homers, 146 RBIs, a .626 OPS and 526 strikeouts.
Some believe Brandon Belt would hit for more power if he escapes spacious Oracle Park in San Francisco, but he is owed $34.4 million across the next two seasons after hitting .234 with 17 homers, 57 RBIs and a .742 OPS this past year.
Of the two, Belt is the better option but only if the Giants pay a big chuck of the cash owed and are willing to take back a second-tier prospect.