SAN DIEGO — When team officials speak at the Winter Meetings, bets are typically hedged, positions are intentionally obscured and emotions are almost always tempered, at least in public interviews with the media.
But Yankees manager Aaron Boone, speaking with mostly New York reporters at his availability Tuesday afternoon, about five hours before news broke of Gerrit Cole’s massive nine-year, $324 million deal, made no real attempt to hide his — and his franchise’s — immense desire to convince the free-agent right-hander come to New York City.
“I feel like he’s just, obviously, he’s a special talent and a special pitcher,” said Boone, wearing his light blue sport coat, dark jeans and crisp, white Air Force 1s. “This is a guy that’s really hungry, really driven. Again, he understands who he is, and I don’t think whether — wherever he takes up residence he’s going to be a great pitcher.”
He paused, for just a moment. “Hopefully it’s in the Bronx.”
Seriously, listen to Boone talk about meeting with Cole. There’s want in that voice.
Boone stopped short of publicly begging Cole to join his team, of course, and he said all the right things about the pitchers who were already on the roster.
But Boone and the rest of the Yankees knew the truth: For as good as their offense has been the past few years, and as good as it should be in 2020 if everyone’s healthy, the lack of an elite ace atop the rotation was going to put them behind other teams in October. Teams tend to get a little anxious after a couple years of barely missing out on success — in the past three years, they’ve reached the ALCS twice and won at least 100 games twice (they did both in 2019). That kind of disappointment sticks.
Brian Cashman, the longtime front-office guru for the Yankees, understood the dire need too, of course. And he had no intention of waiting around to land his guy, as had become the custom of the past few offseasons.
The Yankees went after Cole on all fronts, flying a rather large contingent to California to visit with the pitcher and convince him of their interest. Heck, even Andy Pettitte, the Yankees lefty hurler who was a star during Cole’s formative years as a Yankees fan, was part of the group.
“Man, I wanted him there,” Boone said. “I think, in Gerrit’s case, obviously as a Yankee fan, we knew one of his favorite players growing up was Andy Pettitte. We’ve all got to see the impact Andy has had in our organization not only as a great ex-Yankee, but also even now as his role has continued to grow, his effect with players, his ability to relate and talk and have a positive impact on players is something that I’ve got to witness here these last couple years. I think him being there as a fellow great pitcher I knew would be valuable, and I’m confident it was incredibly valuable.”
The pitch seems to have to worked, though the nine years and $324 million offered certainly did most of the heavy lifting.
And now the Yankees have their guy. Cole jumps atop a rotation that includes Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino. The bullpen has established closers, plural, and live arms aplenty. The offense has Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, D.J. LeMahieu and Gary Sanchez, among others.
This was already a team that could have competed for the World Series. Now, though? It’s a team that just might be World Series favorites.