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With Gerrit Cole, it’s World Series or bust for the Yankees

The Yankees got their man, and they’re now perched as the top dogs in baseball.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it, the Yankees reprised their role as the Evil Empire last night, swooping in and signing Gerrit Cole to a record-shattering deal. Perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, the Yankees made Cole a rich man, locking him up for an incredible nine years and $324 million.

It’s the largest contract given to a pitcher in big league history, but it’s worth every penny for the Yankees.

For years, the Yankees have had one glaring weak spot: starting pitching. Now, there are no more excuses. This team is loaded from top to bottom, and is very much a legitimate World Series favorite.

Think about how the rotation looks now. Even if he doesn’t get the Opening Day start, Cole is undoubtedly the club’s ace. He’s the best pitcher the Yankees have had since they acquired Roger Clemens, and gives the team the unquestioned horse that the can count on in the biggest games of the season.

This also has the luxury of bumping the Yankees’ other starters down a peg. Luis Severino can relax a little bit more as the number-two arm Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton are probably the game’s best third and fourth starters, and some combination of J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German or Deivi Garcia will man the fifth spot. That is not only the best Yankees’ rotation in years, but it might be one of the best rotations in all of baseball. The starting staff is no longer a weakness for New York, but actually a viable strength.

We already know that the Yankees can hit, and that they have arguably the best bullpen in the league. Now, they have a top-five rotation that has both the aces and the depth necessary to outlast any potential playoff opponent. Oddsmakers have already made the Yankees the favorite for the championship this year, and it’s pretty hard to argue when you look up and down this roster.

The Yankees have been building to this moment for a long time. They passed on giving money to other lesser starters or adding more hitters to save their money for this moment, and to the team’s credit, they didn’t skimp. Who knows how much the Yankees overpaid by, but it doesn’t matter. Few teams have the capability to make an offer like this, and the Yankees behaved like the Yankees of old, doing what had to be done.

Now, about the contract. Will it look bad in five or six years? Probably. Does that matter? Not at all. Think about any big free agent signing in recent Yankees history, like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, or Alex Rodriguez. Those contracts all looked bad at the end, but the championship acquired along the way made it all worth it, and there’s no way they could have done it without those players. Looking at the team’s roster, the results of the last three seasons and the state of the MLB, had Cole gone anywhere else, I think it is safe to say that the Yankees might not have been legit World Series favorites unless they signed Cole.

But how great can one man really be? Is he really worth over $1 million per start? At age-29, Cole is square in his prime, and coming off one of the most dominant seasons of the decade:

Those are numbers worthy of a record-setting contract. Few pitchers can take over a game anymore like Cole can, and the Yankees did what they had to do to get him.

The rest of the starting pitching market is thin. Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-jin Ryu are the best pitchers left. Everyone else is a flyer or a bounce-back candidate. The Yankees have shopped there before, but they won’t have to this time.

The Yankees saw their World Series window open earlier than expected in 2017, but have come up short for three years. Each year there was a legitimate reason why the Yankees lost – to be honest, they were never truly the best team in the American League. That’s all changed now. By signing Gerrit Cole, there’s no turning back for the Yankees.

It’s World Series or bust.