At the Winter Meetings this week, the New York Yankees signed former Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million deal. Cole, who was traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates, following a down year in 2017, to the Houston Astros where he has emerged as, arguably, the most dominant pitcher in baseball. In 2019, Cole led the Majors in strikeouts with 326 in just 212.1 innings while posting a league-best 2.50 ERA.
In relation to the rest of MLB, Cole’s ERA+ of 185 puts him head and shoulders above the competition, leading to his second consecutive AL Cy Young.
Ripples in the East and the West
Cole and the Yankees are poised to terrorize the AL East in 2020 and the Bronx Bombers stand to be the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series. But, while teams in the East will have to face Cole several times each over the course of the season, teams in the AL West have been granted a reprieve.
Cole with the Houston Astros was 11-2 against the AL West in 2019, losing surprisingly to the Texas Rangers twice. The Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Angels, and Seattle Mariners were blanked with just one no-decision. Three of the Mariners’ 2019 losses came at the hands of Cole.
According to Baseball-Reference, Cole contributed 6.9 WAR to the Astros. Granted, removing those 6.9 wins entirely from the Astros’ 2019 roster, with no account of a new pitcher in the rotation, still puts the Astros in first place. But the 2019 Astros were also an historically good regular season team. Subtract Cole and factor in some regression for some other players and maybe the AL West won’t just be a race for second place and a wild card.
For the Yankees, removing C.C. Sabathia’s 0.4 WAR and inserting Cole’s 6.9 and the Bombers improve to a 109-win team. The caveat here is that the 2019 Yankees outpaced their expected win total by three in the Pythagorean formula and a whopping nine wins by base runs. Cole might simply ensure that there is no drop off in total wins for the Yankees in 2020. But more to the point, the shutdown ace becomes a formidable postseason weapon for a Yankees team that has had to lean heavily on its bullpen the last two Octobers.
Further AL West Developments
A day after Cole exited the AL West, former Washington Nationals All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon signed a seven-year $245 million contract with the Angels, joining the best player on the planet, Mike Trout. The Angels lineup has the potential to feature a one-two-three punch of Trout, Rendon, and Shohei Ohtani on the days Ohtani isn’t pitching. Rendon is coming off a .319/.412/.598 season in which he hit 34 HR and led the league in RBI with 126 and in doubles with 44, while spurring the Nats to a World Series victory.
Also, in the wake of Sign-Stealing Gate, which may result in suspensions to the Astros general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and manager, A.J. Hinch, the Astros are rumored to be looking to move shortstop Carlos Correa prior to him reaching free agency. Correa contributed 2.9 bWAR to the Astros World Series run.
The very early narrative on the 2020 AL West, coming out of the Winter Meetings, includes a defending champion Astros in slight decline, a perpetually disappointing Angels club making a big splash, the A’s holding steady, the Rangers looking to shore up its roster beyond the big three free agents signing (Stephen Strasburg back to the Nationals being the third), and a Mariners club looking to promote top prospects and continue the youth movement.
March 26, 2020 can’t get here fast enough.