Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has used “Championship caliber” as an oft-mocked phrase for the past few years now; it’s either made fun of because from 2013 to 2016 the Yankees were anything but Championship caliber, or because it often referred to the fact this could be done with a payroll below the luxury tax cap.
Well, Hal, you have your wish. The Yankees are set to come in under the luxury tax in 2018, both avoiding the draft penalties in the new CBA and resetting themselves so they can spend big next offseason. The latter part, the Championship caliber piece, is just about finished.
After Brian Cashman made a deal to trade Starlin Castro and prospects for Giancarlo Stanton and a salary dump trade sending Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to San Diego, the Yankees have about $20-30 million to spend on a pitcher (or two) and an infielder. At that point, they will officially, in my mind, be worthy of that title. There are a number of options for pitcher—they have some room to sign a Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, but that doesn’t seem their style right now. They could also sign someone like Alex Cobb, a still-very-decent pitcher at a better price. My guess is they make a run for an even better option: Gerrit Cole.
Cole was a Yankee once—well, technically. He was drafted by the Yankees as the 28th selection in the 2008 draft, a flub where they waited until August to start negotiations and offered him $4 million when he had no intention of ever signing. He went to UCLA, and the Yankees used their compensation pick to acquire Slade Heathcott. Oops.
He went on to be the first overall selection in the 2011 draft, and the Pirates made the right call. Since his 2013 debut, here’s where he ranks in the NL in the major statistical categories:
- fWAR: 10th
- ERA-: 26th
- FIP-: 16th
- K-BB%: 20th
This is no ace; I wouldn’t put him in the same category as a Jacob deGrom, Stephen Strasburg, or Madison Bumgarner, but probably one tier lower with pitchers like Kyle Hendricks or Julio Teheran.
That also doesn’t mean there aren’t signs of worry. One of them is injuries. In 2016 he missed about half of the season with a strained right triceps and a couple of cases of right elbow inflammation, which is especially concerning. He did put up a full season in 2017, so that’s at least a very good sign. Statistical worries are present, though.
There’s a lot to process. On one hand, his K% dipped and has recovered significantly over his last season, but he has seen subsequent decline in O-Swing% and a slow climb in BB%. That’s... not amazing. Another development is more home runs, which likely isn’t helped by Yankee Stadium, but that also just seems par for the course in the juiced ball era.
What this does mean is that if the Yankees feel this is mechanical—aka something to be worked on—then it’s a good buy-low option. It also makes it something like the Sonny Gray acquisition, which is my point in a way.
To get someone like a Michael Fulmer, or to sign a Darvish or Arrieta, the cost is very high in money or prospects. With Cole, it is probably neither. While the Pirates aren’t giving him away for nothing, the haul will likely look like Gray’s—two top 100 prospects would be my guess. Considering they have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and they haven’t touched a single blue chip in any of their recent deals, it means they can make this deal and keep their system largely intact for two years of Cole.
This, in my mind, cements the Yankees as the best team in baseball going into 2018. Adding a player like Stanton is phenomenal, but adding another “flawed number two” would give the Yankees the best lineup and rotation in the league, not to mention their bullpen. If 2018 is the year to field a Championship caliber team, might as well go for the kill.