The addition of Gerrit Cole is the right move at the right time for the New York Yankees. He is a finishing piece for a team that has been to the ALCS two times in three years. In order to sign Cole, the Yankees reset the free agent pitching market, with records for years, annual value, and total value.
Nine years and $324M are significant numbers that will affect the Yankees' planning and decision making over the next decade. With its existing young core barreling towards their arbitration years, and other key pieces of the system heading towards free agency, the Yankees will need their minor-league system to continue to step up and provide productive players to fill the needs that arise over the course of a season.
The Yankees of the last last few years have generally avoided being bogged down by long-terms deals, passing on players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and refusing to add an extra year to an offer for Patrick Corbin. Right now, only two Yankees are signed beyond 2025 in Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton. Aaron Hicks joins those two as another Yankee on a long-term contract, though his total deal pales in comparison to Cole and Stanton’s in terms of yearly and total value.
The success of the 2017-2019 Yankees has relied heavily on the production of homegrown players who have hit the major leagues over the last five years. Led by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, the Yankees are going to find themselves paying rapidly increasing wages as their young core hits their arbitration years. While the Yankees are obviously in a strong financial position to maintain these players throughout the arbitration process, given the team's relative financial austerity recently, it could push the team away from trades that involve significant salary and from the upper end of the free agent markets.
The Yankees are also staring at a 2020 season where they will see their game one and two starters from the most recent playoffs, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka, pitching in their walk years, along with second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Those are potential losses of production that will have to be addressed.
The Yankees entered the 2019 season with a farm system that was consistently ranked among the bottom half of the league. Despite its low regard among evaluators, the farm system provided answers to all of the Yankees' injury problems throughout the season. Players without a significant prospect pedigree, or coming off injury, like Gio Urshela, Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman and Thairo Estrada, all provided valuable contributions for the team.
While nobody in the pipeline can be expected to step in on day one and replace the production of a top starter, pitching will be the system's strength over the next couple of seasons. 10 of the Yankees' top-30 prospects are pitchers who have already reached High-A Tampa or above. That puts these high quality arms right in the window to reach the major leagues and contribute to the team with-in the next few seasons.
Eyes will quickly fall on players like Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia and Luis Medina, three of the arms with the highest ceilings for rotation help. Beyond them, the Yankees will likely need players like Ben Heller to re-establish themselves as a regular bullpen option, while they’ll hope that a player like Nick Nelson can become a significant contributor in the vein of Chad Green or Tommy Kahnle.
On the flip side, the impact position players in the Yankees' system appear to be far away from the majors. Of the 14 position players ranked in the MLB Pipeline top-30 Yankees' prospects, only Estevan Florial has already played above Low-A. Much of the Yankees' positional strength has yet to play outside of rookie ball, and still must pass numerous levels of development to become real options for the team. Over the next few seasons, the organization is going to need these players to progress quickly, knowing that not all of them have a future in the Bronx. As the Yankees field a team that is in contention year in and year out, the minors will be taxed repeatedly as the big league club swings trades to bring in additional pieces they need to complete a championship puzzle.
If the Yankees are looking for a contribution over the next couple of season, it is likely to come from players currently off the prospect rankings boards, just as Mike Ford was for his entire minor league career. The coaching staffs at Triple-A Scranton, and Double-A Trenton will be tasked with preparing the likes of Chris Gittens, Trey Amburgey, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Kyle Holder to be ready when called upon to fill in. The Yankees will also look to supplement their minor-league rosters, as players like Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela came over to the organization in what were considered relatively minor deals at the time.
The arrival of Gerrit Cole is being rightly celebrated by the Yankees and their fans. The sheer size and scope of the Cole deal, combined with a surge of young Yankee players into the arbitration cycle and the team's apparent desire to not exceed the last luxury tax threshold, will likely lead to tough decisions down the road. The Yankees will need the minor-league system to continue producing quality prospects now more than ever, as there may not be another blank check to take on salary at the next trade deadline or free agency period.