(CBS New York) — The New York Yankees resumed their place as kings of the baseball offseason late last night when they handed Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole a nine-year $324 million contract to come play in the Bronx. The 29-year-old Cole has been one of the game’s best pitchers over the course of the last two seasons in Houston finishing 5th in the AL Cy Young voting in 2018 and 2nd this year behind teammate Justin Verlander.
Understandably, the signing has been met with much fanfare from the Bombers’ faithful as Cole seems to fill the biggest void that the team had: a top of the rotation ace to pair with Luis Severino. The rotation appears to be nearly as formidable as the lineup now, and the team looks poised to return to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
But, as The Athletic’s Jayson Stark noted on Twitter last night in the wake of the signing, long-term contracts for free agents who switched teams haven’t always worked out for the acquiring teams the way they’d hoped.
Free agents who got 9+ years & changed teams, last 20 years:
And now Gerrit Cole (9-$324M)
How many of those deals would their teams sign if they had it to do over?
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 11, 2019
Of those players, only one, Alex Rodriguez, went on to win a World Series with the team that signed him to a mega contract. The others? The jury is out on whether those contracts were/are worth it.
First, let’s acknowledge that both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper signed their deals last winter, so it’s hard to make any judgments about either just yet. But, neither made the postseason with their new teams this season and, in fact, the one Harper left won the World Series (Washington Nationals). There is still plenty of time left to debate those two deals.
But, for Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Prince Fielder, we have ample ability to look at the stats and see how things played out for their teams.
With Rodriguez, he signed his 10-year $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2001, and was traded to the Yankees in 2004 after Texas finished last in the A.L. West in 2001, ’02, and ’03. He did average 8.5 wins above replacement in those three seasons. After moving to NY, Rodriguez thrived winning the A.L. MVP in 2005 and ’07 and helping the team to a World Series ring in 2009. He signed a new 10-year $275 million contract following that 2007 season. In all, over the seven years of the original contract, Rodriguez produced 56.4 total WAR or an average of about 8 wins above replacement per season. That’s very strong, and at 28 when he was traded to the Yanks, a nice comparison for what fans might hope Cole provides.
But, A-Rod was a position player, so there’s innately more opportunity for value out of his contract as he was playing every day or at least four of every five games. He appears to be the best case scenario of this group. Pujols signed his 10-year deal with the Angels at age 32. Los Angeles has made the playoffs just once (2014 loss to Royals in ALDS) and he has compiled just a 13.6 WAR over eight seasons.
Cano, who Yankees fans are very familiar with, signed his contract with the Mariners prior to the 2014 season. Seattle did not make the playoffs during his time there, though Cano did put together strong seasons in 2014 (5th AL MVP voting) and 2016 (8th AL MVP) while posting 23.8 WAR prior to being traded to the Mets last offseason.
Prince Fielder signed his pact in 2012 at age 28. The Tigers made the World Series in his first season with the team, losing 4-0 to the Giants. They lost in the ALCS the next year and Fielder was traded to the Rangers prior to 2014. Injuries derailed his career and he posted just 6.7 WAR over the life of the deal.
The argument for Cole’s deal, and a valid one, is that the Yankees are paying those extra years in order to add Cole’s performance over the next few seasons as they chase a World Series. And, if the Yankees were to get to an win a World Series in the next two, three or four years, with Cole leading the way, I would imagine fans consider the contract a success.
Also of note here, the Yankees roster that Cole joins is much better situated than the ones that Pujols or Cano joined. Fielder is the closest comparison as he joined a Tigers team that, like the Yankees had lost in the ALCS the year prior. And, as we mentioned, that first Fielder Detroit team made the World Series. Yanks fans hope the same is true this year, albeit with a different result.