Stephen Strasburg’s Contract With Nationals Sets Market for Gerrit Cole

Stan Smith / December 08,2019

SAN DIEGO — A widely expected reunion materialized on Monday, the first day of baseball’s annual winter meetings: Stephen Strasburg, the World Series M.V.P. who had become a free agent, re-signed with the Washington Nationals.

Strasburg had exercised the opt-out of his previous contract with the Nationals, forfeiting a guaranteed $100 million over four years only to replace it with an eye-popping new deal that will pay him $245 million over seven years.

The deal broke two records: It is the most expensive contract ever given to a pitcher (beating David Price’s seven-year, $217 million deal from 2015), and it contains the highest average annual value for a pitcher (topping Zack Greinke’s $34.4 million a year, also from 2015).

Those marks might not last long, however.

Strasburg’s deal set the market for Gerrit Cole, 29, another free agent who is two years younger than Strasburg and who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season. The Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, considered to be the primary contenders to sign Cole, most likely paid close attention to the figures in Strasburg’s new agreement.

“It’s very rare that a legacy for a team and a legacy for a player can, in our game, continue as this one has,” Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, said at a news conference on Monday to announce his client’s new deal. Boras deflected questions about Cole, one of his other clients.

The Yankees met last week with Strasburg, a right-hander who went 23-6 with a 3.12 earned run average and 298 strikeouts last season (including the postseason), but many viewed him as the backup option to their main target: Cole, the right-hander who went 24-6 with a 2.39 E.R.A. and 373 strikeouts.

While deferrals in Strasburg’s deal lower its present-day value, $245 million and seven years are still the numbers to beat. The question most observers were asking Monday was: Will any team be willing to offer Cole something close to $300 million over eight to nine years?

The Yankees already have tried twice to acquire Cole — drafting him out of high school and trying to trade for him when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates — but were not successful. They probably will have to beat out the Angels to succeed on their third attempt. Cole grew up in Southern California rooting for both teams.

The Angels have money to spend, a bigger need for pitching and a desire to get their star outfielder Mike Trout into the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Yankees — who have lost to Cole’s most recent team, the Houston Astros, in the American League Championship Series twice in the past three years — recognize the need to acquire a dominant No. 1 starter to get them over the hump and into their first World Series since 2009.

A contingent of Yankees officials and coaches met with Cole last week in Southern California. But they also brought Andy Pettitte, the five-time World Series winner with the Yankees (and a former Astro), to talk to Cole about his experience in New York and how he thrived there.

The Yankees’ longtime general manager, Brian Cashman, was set to arrive in San Diego, the site of the winter meetings, to continue the team’s pursuit of Cole on Monday. Now, at least, the bar has been set.

Tyler Kepner contributed reporting.

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