Last night, the Washington Nationals hosted the New York Yankees on ”Opening Day.” There was much anticipation, not just because this game was the first of the season, but because this was Gerrit Cole’s Yankee debut, the richest pitcher in MLB history.
In December of last year, the New York Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a 9-year, $324 million dollar deal. It is the largest contract ever handed out to a starting pitcher and the second-largest free-agent contract. Cole trails only Bryce Harper‘s 13-year, $330 million free-agent deal signed just last year.
In signing Cole, the Yankees finally landed the ace pitcher they have desired for years. The Yankees had fans grumbling after they ”failed” in recent years to sign Patrick Corbin as a free agent. There were also groans when the Yankees failed to land Justin Verlander in a late-season trade. But, as Cole proved last night, he is perhaps the pitcher most worth waiting for.
Brian Cashman as Captain Ahab
Gerrit Cole is somewhat of a white whale for Yankees GM Brian Cashman. The Yankees initially drafted Cole out of high school with the 28th overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft. But, Cole chose to attend UCLA instead. When Cole became eligible in the 2011 draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates immediately snatched him up with the number one overall pick.
The Yankees attempted to trade for Cole in the 2018 season. In fact, it was rumored that the Yankees offered Clint Frazier as part of the deal. Instead, he was traded to the Houston Astros where he became one of the Yankees biggest rivals.
Cole the Free Agent
At the end of the 2019 season, Cole was officially on the market as a free agent. This marked the first time Cole had been available and Cashman was not going to let him off the hook again. Cole was the top priority for the Yankees and the offer made to him reflects exactly that. There was some competition, however, as both the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers were very interested in signing the right-hander. Luckily for the Yankees, Cole grew up as an avid Yankee fan and Cashman pulled out all the stops. He brought in Andy Pettitte, one of Cole’s favorite players growing up, to the Winter Meetings. It was clear that the Yankees were willing to get Cole’s free-agent signature by any means necessary.
After a very long wait due to the COVID outbreak, Gerrit Cole finally made his debut last night for the New York Yankees. He did not disappoint. After giving up a first-inning home run to Adam Eaton, Cole did not allow another hit. In a five-inning abbreviated start, Cole struck out five and walked only one looking dominant in the process.
After some early command issues, Cole settled into the role of Yankee ace. He threw a total of 75 pitches and, after the home run, retired 14 of the next 16 batters. With this win, Cole hasn’t lost a regular-season game since May of last year.
It was a surreal moment for both the Yankees and Cole. In Cole’s own words, “I was so excited,” said Cole. “I was walking through the clubhouse before and saw a bunch of guys in Yankees uniforms and it just hit me that this is for real.”
Despite the rain-shortened outing, both Cole and Yankee fans are excited about the future. The expectations are lofty as they were when the Yankees signed C.C. Sabathia back in 2008. Sabathia responded by helping the Yankees win their 26th World Series title in 2009. That 2009 championship has been the last for a Yankee team hungry to return to glory. Cole will be relied upon to bring even more championships to the winningest franchise in MLB history. No doubt, he is more than ready for the challenge.
Embed from Getty Images