When the Yankees purchased A.J. Cole from the Nationals in April, he seemed like just another random bullpen arm that we would all forget was on the team by the end of the season. The David Hale trajectory, if you will.
Cole had actually broken camp in the Nationals’ rotation, but he was so bad that he lasted just two games there, and two more in the bullpen before they ditched him. The Yankees acquired him and stuck him in the back end of the bullpen, and for a short period, he actually wasn’t that bad. That would not last.
Stats: 38.0 innings, 4.26 ERA, 49 strikeouts, 1.447 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 4.92 FIP, -0.5 WAR
Contract status: Under team control, arbitration eligible beginning in 2020
His first appearance as a Yankee was fairly non-descript. Cole was tasked with finishing off the final two innings against the Angels with the Yankees up 11-1. He allowed four hits and a walk, but no runs. As became the norm, he remained on the Yankees’ roster after that, but it would be a while before his next outing.
The Yankees had gone through all the relevant, available bullpen pieces against the Athletics on May 12th when the game entered extra innings. After the extremely low-leverage first outing, he was suddenly thrown into a fairly high-leverage one for his second.
It started with two walks, and Cole very much looked like the guy who had an ERA over 13.00 in Washington. Somehow, he escaped it, retiring Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, and Matt Olson, no less. He threw another scoreless inning in the 11th, and the Yankees eventually walked it off. The legend of Noted Relief Ace A.J. Cole was born.
In his first 16 appearances as a Yankees, Cole allowed just five earned runs in 26.2 innings. Other than the game against Oakland, not many of those innings were super important, but they were good. You could legitimately wonder if maybe the Yankees stumbled across someone useful. Then things flipped. Quickly.
On August 10th, Cole was tagged for four runs, two earned, against the Rangers. Three days later, he was brought into a semi-high leverage situation against the Mets. The Yankees were down one to start, but he allowed a home run to the first batter he faced. He was trotted back out for a second inning, but gave up two more solo homers. That ended his run as a noted relief ace.
In his final 12 games of the season, Cole had 10.32 ERA. The penultimate game of his season was a 0.0 inning, three runs allowed appearance against the Orioles, of all teams. His run of being good was semi-fun while it lasted, but boy, did it not last.
As to where Cole goes from here, it’s anyone’s guess. He could be the type of guy that ends up sticking with the team through the winter and ends up making the team as the last guy in the bullpen next year. He could also be someone who is traded for a long shot, lottery ticket minor leaguer. Other options also include: literally anything in between. If the Yankees dump him tomorrow, it wouldn’t be much of a shock.