Every time the Yankees failed to make a big move over the past few years, and defended that non-move with some iteration of "we tried, but we thought we'd be fine passing", an uncomfortable truth hung over it all; they were, technically, right. The Yankees didn’t sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper last year, and they were still great. They didn’t add a pitcher at the trade deadline, yet nearly made the World Series, and only failed to do so because of a sputtering offense.
We decried each of those decisions here, not because the Yankees needed to sign Machado or Harper or trade for Justin Verlander or Madison Bumgarner, but because they could do so, and chose not to. In each case, the Yankees decided that the bump to championship odds that an expensive, high-profile move could make wasn’t worth the hit to their profits.
The Yankees didn’t absolutely need Gerrit Cole. They could have rolled with Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka at the front and still competed for a championship. They signed Cole anyway. They fired their killshot.
That’s what this is. This isn’t an uber-efficient move, a “make a million moves to make your team slightly cheaper and slightly worse” maneuver. It isn’t clever, or subtle. It is heavy-handed, swift, and brutal. It makes the Yankees World Series favorites, in 2020 and beyond.
Cole, along with that aforementioned trio of starters, quite possibly gives the Yankees the best rotation in baseball, rivaled only by the staffs in Los Angeles and our nation's capital. He certainly vaults the team's overall staff to the top of the league. For the first time in years, the Yankees can plausibly argue that their starting pitching dwarfs that of any other team in the game.
Matched up with an offense that just set the franchise-record for homers, and overall finished second by wRC+ and third by DRC+, and suddenly, you have baseball’s best team on paper. There were already no holes on this roster, and now they have the game’s top ace, one that will be around for at least the next five seasons. This is how to wrench a championship window wide open, by taking a deep and balanced team and adding an in-prime, eight-win superstar to it.
Make no mistake, this team was strong before they added Cole, and would have been a legitimate contender had they merely made a few moves on the margin ahead of 2020. Before the Cole signing, FanGraphs projected the Yankees to be the second-best team in the AL and third-best in the majors, behind only the Astros and the Dodgers.
Signing Cole is what happens when you decide that good enough is no longer good enough. When you decide that resting on some sort of second-in-projected-war laurels is silly, and that you'll take the check, and a pennant, please and thank you. The Yankees cannot buy a championship, but they can put themselves in the absolute best position to win by using their money. That's all fans were asking for when they lamented the half-hearted pursuits of Machado, of Patrick Corbin, of the likes of Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer years ago. That's all they asked for now.
We'll spend the rest of this week and this offseason analyzing this signing from every angle. We'll look at the contract, and Cole's performance, at how we can expect him to age. Those are vital angles, ones that will shed insight on the move and put it in proper context.
Before we even get to all that, the most important takeaway is the most straightforward one: the Yankees are better today than they were yesterday, and by no small margin, simply because they decided no mere dollar-amount would stop them. They are now, most likely, the best team in baseball. I can think of no sweeter words.