Gerrit Cole is in the process of putting together one of the best walk years in baseball history.
Heading into free agency for the first time in his career, Cole will also most likely be adding his first-ever Cy Young Award to his trophy case. He’s coming off a league-leading 2.50 ERA across 212 1/3 innings while an absurd 13.8 strikeouts per nine. To top it all off, Cole struck out 15 batters in a dominant showing against the Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS on Saturday.
Gerrit Cole, Fastball, Knuckle Curve & Slider Spins. pic.twitter.com/7m2bLI9mlG
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 6, 2019
The season (and post-season) Cole is carrying into free agency is something we haven’t seen in a long time. In fact, it could be the most impressive since Greg Maddux became a free agent back in 1992.
The closest comparables from recent memory to what Cole is doing right now would be David Price in 2015, Max Scherzer in 2014, and CC Sabathia in 2007. Like Cole, all of those guys were still in their 20s coming off of Cy Young calibre seasons, but nobody came anywhere near touching Cole’s strikeout totals from 2019.
There have been other amazing pre-free agent seasons since 1990, like David Cone in 1992, Zack Greinke in 2015, and Randy Johnson in 1998, but you have to go all the way back to Maddux and his 26-year-old, 268-inning, 7.0 fWAR season in 1992 to find a showing this good from somebody in their 20s.
So, if there was ever a time to invest a lot of money in a pitcher, this would be it.
Gerrit Cole makes all the sense in the world for the Blue Jays. The team has a wealth of financial flexibility, a starting rotation without an ace (or anything close to a sure thing for that matter), and a frustrated fanbase that wants to see the organization make an earnest effort to win.
As of right now, David Price owns the biggest contract ever handed out to a pitcher at seven years, $217 million. Cole is going to dwarf that total this off-season. We saw Bracy Harper and Manny Machado sign the biggest contracts in Major League Baseball history last off-season and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Cole up there this winter.
The massive deals to elite starting pitchers we’ve seen over the past few years have paid dividends for their teams. Scherzer has been excellent in Washington, Sabathia helped New York to a World Series in 2009 and continued to be solid for another decade, and Price eventually exorcised his playoff demons and played a key role in Boston’s 2018 World Series. There are examples of big contracts handed out to pitchers that didn’t work out, like Jordan Zimmerman in Detroit and Yu Darvish in Chicago, but Cole appears to be a better bet than those two.
Unfortunately, as perfect of a fit as this is for the Blue Jays, it’s just a dream. Gerrit Cole isn’t going to sign in Toronto.
This is a two-way street. On one hand, Mark Shapiro has already made it abundantly clear that the Jays are looking to be opportunistic rather than trying to win the off-season. On the other hand, Cole probably isn’t in a rush to join a team that isn’t currently close to being a contender that plays in a hitter-friendly park in the best division in baseball. Ownership that doesn’t want to get involved in the yearly chase for the biggest fish in the pond coupled with a stadium and division situation incredibly unfavourable to starting pitchers makes even dreaming about Cole becoming a Blue Jay incredibly difficult.
This isn’t just a post to complain about the front office being conservative in their approach to building a contending team. I mean, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the young core being put together here and the direction they’re headed. But why not entertain the possibility of making a game-changing acquisition like this?
Instead of legitimately thinking about the possibility of adding a Cy Young calibre pitcher to lead a young staff, we’re sitting here trying to get excited about maybe adding Jake Odorizzi and bringing back Matt Shoemaker on a bargain deal. Nothing against Odorizzi or Shoemaker, but there’s no reason a team with such a good young core backed by one of the largest markets in baseball should be completely dismissive of this kind of addition.
“All wins aren’t created equal, right? So a player who’s a three-win player who takes you from 82 to 85 wins probably doesn’t move that needle,” he said. “But if you’re at 87 wins and it takes you from 87 to 90, does that make sense? So it’s more like when we’re at that point, when you can get the player who helps take you from a good team to a team that’s a potential championship team, we need to go out and get that player, and (ownership) support will be there.”
From July onwards, the Jays put up a 36-42 record, which genuinely put forward some optimism the team could be decent next year. With a full season of Bo, Vlad, Gurriel, Biggio, and perhaps Nate Pearson, the Jays should project to finish around .500 in 2020. Could Gerrit Cole really not take a .500 Jays team and put them right in the mix of a 90-win season?
A lot of the pieces are in place right now. The only thing holding the Blue Jays back is themselves. Go sign Gerrit Cole, you cowards. Or, at the very least, try. Even if you come up short, it would mean a lot to the fans.