SAN DIEGO — Somewhere, The Boss is smiling.
In the type of move George Steinbrenner lived for, his Yankees and son Hal Steinbrenner are back on top of the baseball universe after signing stud right-hander Gerrit Cole to a record-setting, nine-year contract worth a staggering $324 million Tuesday night.
The move sent shock waves through the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, where the winter meetings are being held, and the rest of the major leagues, and immediately stamped the Yankees as the team to beat in not only the AL East but the American League and the favorites to win the World Series for the first time since 2009.
Cole, 29 and a Southern California native, showed he wasn’t bull spitting when he said he didn’t have any “West Coast bias’’ by signing with the team he grew up rooting for from 3,000 miles away.
Cole joining the Yankees turns a good rotation into the best in baseball, as James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, J.A. Happ and eventually Domingo German fall in behind Cole, who went 35-10 the past two seasons for the Astros with a 2.68 ERA in 65 starts in which he struck out 602 in 412²/₃ innings.
“We are getting further along in the Cole negotiations,’’ agent Scott Boras had said earlier Tuesday. “But sometimes you get 5 percent from the finish line and it takes a month.’’
Actually, it took less than a dozen hours to finalize the largest contract ever giving to a pitcher and the fourth-highest in baseball history to any player. There is no deferred money and Cole will make $36 million a year. He can opt out after 2024 season.
Joe Maddon, the new Angels manager, congratulated Yankees general manager Brian Cashman at Seasons 52, a nearby restaurant where Cashman officially declined to comment on the news. The Angels and Dodgers also were in the hunt for Cole.
“Whether we get this player or not we will continue to look at any options to improve this team,’’ Cashman said late Tuesday afternoon.
Short of signing Stephen Strasburg and Cole, two right-handers the Yankees flew to California to meet with last week, the Yankees couldn’t have improved their club any better than adding Cole.
Before the news broke, manager Aaron Boone was asked what he learned about Cole in the meeting that took place in Orange County.
“Special, special guy. Obviously a great athlete, a great pitcher in the prime of his career. I feel like Gerrit’s understanding of who he is and why he’s great and to be able to speak about it was really impressive,’’ Boone said.
Landing Cole ended a long saga of disappointment for the Yankees concerning the right-hander. They took him in the first round of the 2008 draft and watched him dance his way to UCLA. Three years later, the Pirates took Cole with the first pick of the draft. After the 2017 season, the Pirates put Cole on the trading block and the Yankees made an offer that Pittsburgh believed didn’t measure up to the Yankees and instead dealt him to the Astros.
It was there he was one half of the best starting duo in baseball with Justin Verlander. This past season Verlander was the Cy Young Award winner and the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Cole finished a close second. Cole will have to shave his beard and cut his hair to comply with the Yankees’ grooming conditions.
“Obviously, anytime you’re talking about a player the caliber of Gerrit Cole and knowing what he can potentially mean to our club, you know, it’s no surprise that we are as invested as we are in pursuing him,’’ Boone said. “Even though we feel like whatever ends up happening we have a chance to have a special team, an elite team, a championship team, but obviously when you are talking about a player at the level of Gerrit Cole, in a lot of ways that’s a game-changing type talent.’’
Who will finally be wearing pinstripes.