Gerrit Cole is not only the best player on the New York Yankees right now, but he may have the single most pull of any player on the roster. The Yankees owe Cole more than $300 million over nine years; they owe it to themselves to build their roster with his best interests in mind. A happy Cole is likely to be a productive Cole.
Thus, when Brian Cashman had the chance to trade for Jameson Taillon, a starter that would not only fill a void in the Yankees’ rotation but also has a history with Cole, it became a no-brainer. Cole and Taillon were teammates in Pittsburgh from 2016-17 and came up through the minors together, including an appearance at the 2012 MLB All-Star Futures Game.
Along the way, Cole and Taillon forged a strong relationship. Even as Cole moved on to Houston and eventually New York, the two stayed in touch. However, it seems like this is more than just an instance of the Yankees trying to keep Cole happy by acquiring his friend.
The most telling thing about Cole’s endorsement for Taillon is that Cole is an honest guy. He’s always quick to point out how he could have been better in a start, even when things looked pretty good at the surface. Cole is a pitching nerd — he goes deep into analytics such as spin rate and is always pushing to become the best pitcher he can be. Listening to Cole talk about pitching after a game is like receiving a crash course from a college professor.
So, to hear Cole rave about Taillon’s work ethic, pitching smarts and competitive level the way he did carries a lot of weight:
“I told them, if you are going to bet on somebody, if you are going to go to battle with someone, that Jameson is the guy you want next to you,” Cole said. “He is not fazed. He always makes people around him better. He is one of the most resilient people I have ever known.”
Taillon is a fighter — he’s come back from two Tommy John surgeries and a bout with testicular cancer. Cole said that when he’d call Taillon during the cancer treatment, Taillon would point out potential mechanical adjustments for Cole to make just from watching him on TV.
Then, when Taillon walked back on the mound himself after his most recent Tommy John, he completely reinvented himself.
“I hate seeing videos of the way I used to throw. It disgusts me,” Taillon said. “I kind of had like a coming-to-grips moment where I said, you know what, my current set of mechanics and what I’m doing isn’t working. That’s just the cold, hard truth. I need to change something or else my career is going to be over. So I stripped it all the way down. With rehab, all you have is time. I had 12, 15, 16 months to strip it down and kind of revamp my mechanics and revamp my career.”
It’s easy to see why Cole would respect Taillon so much — they approach the game in very much the same way. His analytical approach to pitching will fit in well on the Yankees’ modern pitching staff, and could thrive removed from the more limiting Pittsburgh staff.
It’s not a coincidence that several former Pirates pitchers have hit their career peaks after leaving Pittsburgh. First there was Charlie Morton, then there was Cole, and most recently Tyler Glasnow has thrived since departing the Steel City. All of these pitchers have thrived by ditching the sinker and letting the four-seam heat fly. Although their ground ball rates have declined, their dramatic uptick in strikeouts has more than made up for it.
Could Taillon be in for a similar resurgence? His fastball was in the top 25 percent of all big leaguers in terms of velocity and has above-average spin, and his slider and curveball have above-average whiff rates. The only pitch that didn’t stand out for Taillon on an analytics basis the last few years was his sinker, an offering loved by Pittsburgh that other pitchers have benefited from by scrapping. Knowing Taillon’s penchant for analytics and after seeing three other similar pitchers get better after leaving Pittsburgh, there could be something to suggesting that the best version of Taillon is yet to come for the Yankees.
There’s a lot to like about the Yankees’ acquisition of Jameson Taillon. They got him for relatively little, he comes with Gerrit Cole’s endorsement, his focus on analytics should fit in well in New York, and he has a blueprint for post-Pittsburgh success. The former No. 2 overall pick never reached his true ceiling in Pittsburgh, but the Yankees are still getting him in his expected prime at age 29. This acquisition could be just the one that the Yankees were looking for to bolster their rotation.