The Yankees And Their “White Whale”

Every once in a while, a person comes into your life and immediately reminds you of who you truly are. It could be a long lost friend. Maybe it is a girlfriend or boyfriend or a husband or a wife. It could be a chance encounter with a person on the street. Gerrit Cole is that reminder for the Yankees.

As the Yankees moved further and further away from George Steinbrenner, their penchant for big ticket items seemingly decreased. The team didn’t want to be the big spenders in the room anymore. They wanted to be the smartest guys in the room. Of course, this was partially driven by a desire to maximize profits and avoid giving money to other teams, but there were baseball reasons to do this as well. Instead of pouring their deep reservoir of resources into the on-field product, they pivoted to creating an imposing analytics and development machine. The team successfully built a new core, but it was a conscious decision to build the engine out of sight instead of buying rims for the wheels or tints for the windows.

The signing of Gerrit Cole means the Yankees used a smooth black matte paint, smoked out the windows and put twenty four inches on a championship caliber sports car that’s revving up for the 2020 season. At first glance, the nine-year, $324 million contract flies in the face of the modern day baseball approach. It is a call to the old school when the winter meetings were the culmination of egregious and irrational spending.

Except the Cole contract isn’t an irrational investment. The deal doesn’t fly in the face of the modern day baseball approach. It is the end result of a process that requires measured spending and reliance upon analytics-based valuations. One of the most frustrating parts of seeing this run of measured spending is that we didn’t really know if the Yankees would ever be interested in hunting the big fish again. The growing list of elite players we saw sign with competitors was discouraging. Now, we can finally see the fruits of painstaking labor. A player of Cole’s caliber and his corresponding contract is exactly why you utilize strict valuations of lesser players when determining if you want to sign them or not.

And this is why the Cole signing is so encouraging. Yes, he is presumably going to provide ace level production for the next few years. Yes, the Yankees should be the odds on favorite to win the World Series next year. In a larger context though, we know this Yankees front office will pull out all of the stops to get who they really want. Gerrit Cole is now the symbol of Yankees’ balance. They efficiently and effectively built a strong foundation for a generational talent to stand upon. We didn’t truly know this was their end game until December 10, 2019.

Brian Cashman recently referred to Gerrit Cole as his “white whale.” Cash spoke about the long road the team has been on to acquire the pitcher. They missed out in the draft. They missed out on the trade market. It is pretty difficult not to believe the decisions made over the last couple of years didn’t have Gerrit Cole in mind. Sometimes people come into your lives that remind you of who you truly are. Gerrit Cole is that reminder for the Yankees. Now he will lead the team in trying to become who they once were. That is a World Champion.

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25 Comments

  1. MikeD

    Randy, nice writing. I mean that not simply for the content, but the style.

    The knee-jerk reaction among Yankee fans and non-Yankee fans for the longest time was that the Yankees would always be in on the top free agents. It was true, but then around 2013 the Yankees started sending signals they were changing their approach. Eventually, the knee-jerk reaction became the Yankees won’t go the extra mile to sign a big free agent.

    The Yankees did change their approach. They had to. Yet the signing of Cole is not a desperation move. They built their team intelligently, through the farm, through smart trades, through analytics. They’ve shown that spending big still fits in their plan, bringing together both the analytics and the business side. They built the foundation from within, but they went out and spent big on the difference maker. It’s not a change of direction. It’s all part of the same plan.

  2. Betty Lizard

    I’m thrilled to get Cole and especially happy that my former Baseball Boyfriend, Andy Pettitte, proved again that he still has what it takes to win in big situations. Jack Curry tweeted: “Just spoke to Scott Boras. Asked the agent what helped make Gerrit Cole choose the Yankees and he said, “ Five conversations with Hal Steinbrenner,” and “Andy Pettitte.” Boras was impacted by Hal’s persistence and Cole was influenced by Andy’s stories about pitching in NY.”

    • MikeD

      Betty Lizard. A name I remember fondly from early RAB days. Yes, Iagree. Andy and Mo will be great ambassadors for the team in the coming decade. Jeter and Posada would be too, but they went somewhere off into the depths of Miami.

      • MikeD

        …decades.

      • RetroRob

        Ditto. Seeing both your names brings back warm, early days River Ave Blues memories. Someone go find tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder!

  3. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    And at least this time it actually is a whale we’re getting and not a guppy, Randy. I remember when Mike’s white whale was Stephen Drew. He wrote an article about that guy everyday thinking it was like Beetlejuice, if he said Drew’s name enough times he’d magically appear. Then we got Drew and he was garbage of course. Cole won’t be a bust like Ellsbury or McCann. Those were awful signings and people like to point to them as proof that Hal isn’t cheap. But he spent money on washed up old guys 6 years ago! He’s trying! This is the first time he’s actually went out and done what George would have done and it will finally get us that elusive 28th ring.

  4. Coolerking101

    “It is pretty difficult not to believe the decisions made over the last couple of years didn’t have Gerrit Cole in mind”

    This is where this story lost me. The Yanks repeatedly passed on world series difference makers for the last several years. I think it’s pretty clear signing Cole to this contract isn’t part of some master plan that’s been in place for years. It’s simply a reasonable reaction to the Yankees going a DECADE without a world series appearance for the first time in their history.

    For proof, look no further than the way Cashman defensively went off on Sweeni Murti at a press conference right after the season. Cashman became irrationally defensive when Sweeni rather benignly noted that the Yanks repeatedly didn’t come up with the $$$ to bring in elite pitching.

    I don’t believe for once second, that even 4 months ago, the plan was to spend big on Cole or Strasburg. IMO, the Yankees were simply shamed into this move. And hey, if shame is what it takes to make them act like the money printing juggernaut they are, that’s fine with me. I just wished the juggernaut woke up 5 years ago.

    • Randy

      You are free to believe what you like, but you’re not shamed into spending $324 million. And five years ago they signed Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran and Tanaka so they clearly tried five years ago.

      • Coolerking101

        I never suggested they stopped trying. But the evidence is overwhelming that they gave up their obvious financial advantage over the last decade, for no other reason than their desire to make more money (at the expense of the on-field product). So the idea that a decade long stagnant budget was all part of some master plan to spend big on Cole simply doesn’t add up.

        • Randy

          I didn’t say anything about a decade long stagnant budget. They also haven’t been stagnant for a decade. They have clearly spent money. They didn’t get the players that you wanted. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have top five payrolls. And it is pretty obvious that they passed on Corbin and Machado for a shot at Cole. It is the same thing with Johan and CC. They passed on one to get the other. Moves and non moves are always related. Nobody operates in a vacuum.

          • Couldn’t agree more. No one was talking about Corbin like they are talking about Cole. Cole is the best pitcher in baseball over the last 2 years, Corbin was the best pitcher available last offseason. There is no way that signing him to a $324mil contract was a knee jerk reaction. That’s not how this organization is run.

          • Coolerking101

            First, let me be clear, I agree with the majority of your article. I’m simply disagreeing with your point that everything they’ve done to date has been with an eye towards splurging on a whale, like Cole. I just don’t see that.

            I certainly don’t understand how you can say their payroll hasn’t been stagnant for a decade. Yankee payroll in 2010 = about 200 million. Yankee Payroll in 2019 = about 200 million (we won’t get into all the Ellsbury money they pocketed). That budget figure never varied by more than about 10% during the decade. At the same time, the average MLB payroll increased by how much?

            You want to argue they passed on last year’s big money free agents for a shot at Cole/Strasburg…sure, I agree with that. But what I’m not going to buy is that the Yanks have been laying in wait for years, just biding their time for the right moment to spring into action and spend money on the right guy (which is how I interpreted your point at the end of the post).

            The Yanks made a conscious decision to make more money at the expense of the on-field talent. They’re now being forced to re-visit that decision (or shamed, as I put it previously) in light of a decade of failure (by Yankee standards).

          • Randy

            I understand what your disagreement is. I didn’t say they were waiting for Cole since 2015 and as a result they passed on every big free agent since then. They didn’t even have this core until 2017 so making that statement wouldn’t even reflect the timeline of events. Over the last year or two, it is clear they decided to wait for Cole.

            In regards to the payroll, that is a super generalization of the situation. You’re not acknowledging the current CBA, the old CBA, the splurge of 2014, the A Rod buyout, the very necessary rebuild of 2016/2017, etc. The important thing is that they spent money. The payroll didn’t go from 200 million to 100 million because they decided to blow everything up. A precipitous drop is alarming. If you are staying within 20, 30 million it demands context that you didn’t provide. I also acknowledge in the piece that a lot of this was driven by profit so I’m not sure what the issue is.

          • Randy

            And at the end of the day, none of this matters. What is important is that they have Cole and they’re going to be great.

    • Do you think Machado, Harper, or Corbin for that matter would be as much of a difference-maker for the Yankees as Cole over the next several years?

      Whether you are a fan of the budget or not, it’s there. And if the Yankees sign any of those guys, Cole isn’t happening.

      Randy is exactly right. The Yankees were not cheap. They were smart and disciplined. And they actually got the guy they really needed to put them over the top.

      • Coolerking101

        I think Scherzer and/or Verlander would have certainly been the difference between one or more World Series titles in the last decade. Corbin I’m less sure of, but I’d still put the odds at 30%, given that the lack of starting pitching certainly played a significant role in the bullpen running out of gas this year.

        It’s not a question of “cheap”. It’s a question of how much you spend vs your competitors. The undeniable fact is the Yankees used to grossly outspend everyone…and then for the last decade they stopped. It is also undeniable that they didn’t get to a World Series during the decade of what we can playfully call “financial restraint.” Now we can certainly argue over whether there is a cause and effect at play, but given that two of the most elite pitchers of the decade were passed on because of money, I’d argue there is certainly cause and effect. Reasonable minds, however, can differ.

        • I agree and disagree, the only thing I want to point out is that Verlander was a 34 yr old pitcher making like $27mil and not having his regular, great, Justin Verlander year. It wasn’t a slam dunk to trade for him, take on the money and he would turn it back on and be what he has been for the last 2.5 years.
          I was also just listening to the Effectively Wild podcast and they mentioned that the Scherzer contract was seen as the worst contract of the offseason that year, by baseball writers…or GMs, I cant remember.

          Anyway, both have worked out, but I don’t see these as glaring examples of the Yankees deciding not to spend.

          • heretic24

            Good points.

          • Coolerking101

            I think Scherzer and Verlander are fair game because during Cash’s blowup at Sweeny Murti, I believe he specifically noted that he didn’t get them because he was acting within the financial directives provided by ownership (I’m too lazy to track down the video to find the exact quote, sorry). He certainly could have said that he didn’t agree with the asking price or that he didn’t think they would be as good as they were. That he blamed budget exclusively makes them glaring examples in my mind. But as Randy notes above, they got Cole, so let’s be happy.

    • DJ Lemeddardhieu

      I agree 100%. They’ve made bad decision after bad decision this past decade. Verlander wouldn’t have cost that much to trade for. They gave Happ all that money for nothing. They traded for Edwin instead of getting that arm. They invested in the pen rather than getting a starter. Every one cost money and didn’t lead to a WS. They’ve now learned from their mistakes and signed an ace. There was no master plan to wait for Cole to reach free agency and sign him. Hell, they coulda traded for him from the Pirates and should have. Cash wouldn’t pull the trigger.

      • heretic24

        Yet they had literally the best record of any MLB team over that decade. But don’t let facts get in the way of your narrative.

        Agree though that Happ was a bad decision. As for Verlander, at the time most fans didn’t want him. Huge contract and he looked done.

        • RetroRob

          I was fine when they passed on Scherzer because the Yankees clearly were in their own form or a rebuild. Don’t get me wrong. I would have loved to have him, but I also didn’t expect him to remain as effective as he did for as long as he has. It appeared that by the time the Yankees were back in serious contention for a title he’d be on the downside. He proved that belief wrong. He got better with the Nats and remained elite.

          Cole is different. The Yankees are at the top now, in a win-now mode.

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