After last off-season, when the most prized free agents didn’t sign until well after the Winter Meetings, this year is shaping up to be different. Top free agency prize Gerrit Cole is being courted aggressively, with offers slated to begin this week.
At the moment, the Yankees are looking like the slam dunk favorite to net Cole. So much so, that Peter Gammons posted a cryptic tweet that seemed to imply it’s a given that he’ll end up in the Bronx:
Jon is right. They were not denied. Dodgers, Angels will soon learn. https://t.co/8gIIrYEPKN
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 7, 2019
The tweet could very well turn out to be a Bob Nightengale-level misfire of conjecture, but it still underlies the reality that the Yankees are stirring to life as the big-spending off-season behemoth they once were for decades.
With that in mind, It’s time to spell it out: The Dodgers must be willing to meet, or exceed other offers not only in terms of salary and AAV, but years if necessary too.
Given Cole hits age 30 next year, some may understandably be averse to handing out 7-8 years to him. But even if they’re on tab for a steep decline later on, they will still get his prime years during perhaps the most ripe portion of their current championship window. Furthermore, the team’s willingness to give four years to an aging, injury-plagued outfielder last off-season certainly makes any hand-wringing about potentially paying for a player’s decline a little less credible.
Additionally, giving a deal to an ace heading into his thirties may actually be a plus in the context of today’s game. 2019 witnessed a year of resurgence for veteran pitchers like Justin Verlander, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Clayton Kershaw. The World Series champion Nationals were led by Max Scherzer and World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg. Granted, this may not be a sustainable trend, but the dominance of older pitchers at the moment is hard to ignore.
Beyond the obvious reasons why getting Cole at all costs is a must (needing another postseason ace alongside Walker Buehler the main one), there are additional factors to consider in weighing the merits of giving him a lengthy contract. The first is that the forthcoming FA classes for starting pitching are much weaker than this one. It could be a while before another pitcher of his caliber is on the market.
Second is the fact that not only do the Dodgers have the money to afford a record-setting deal period; there will be even more flexibility to pay him in the coming years, chiefly when Clayton Kershaw’s contract is up in two.
Third is that the rotation risks being significantly weaker in 2020 than in recent years. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill are both likely gone, leaving a big void. It’s not that the Dodgers lack starting rotation options without them, as they may have more of a surplus in that department than any other team.
However, while their extras are all very good, they can’t replicate the difference-making impact in October a true ace like Cole can. And while breakouts from Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias aren’t impossible, it probably wouldn’t be wise to put that much pressure on young arms (especially given most or all will likely be on innings limits).
Regardless of who attains Cole’s services, it will be a record-setting contract, significantly north of $215 million. As I’ve touched on a lot recently, this is not unprecedented territory for this franchise. After all, they gave out a then-historic deal to a coveted right-hander in Zack Greinke in 2012. Yes, he did opt out after three seasons, but it was still a huge move that yielded exceptional value. (Plus, the team did make a significant push to retain him with another big deal, this time under Friedman as opposed to Ned Colletti in 2012.)
Should the Dodgers come up short and watch Cole go to New York or Anaheim (or elsewhere), there will no doubt be a chorus of reassurance that the team is still competitive. And that will indeed be true. They will win the NL West regardless, and could just hope the October crapshoot works this time. Friedman predictably stated that the team could continue its restrained approach and still be fine.
And they would be just that: fine. Perhaps they will even win over 100 games yet again without big pickups. But this philosophy, while setting up one of the best runs of consistent success in MLB history, hasn’t yielded the ultimate prize. It’s created the foundation for it, but it’s not enough.
Opportunities like this don’t come around often. There may be some risk in giving out such a lengthy contract to a pitcher, no doubt. But every contract is a risk one way or another. Winning a World Series requires a bold move of some kind.
If this is the only big signing of Andrew Friedman’s tenure in Los Angeles, it’ll be worth it. This window, lengthy as it’s been, won’t last forever. It’s time to capitalize on what could be the most opportune stretch of that window and take a risk, no matter the price tag.