Looking at Free Agency for Gerrit Cole

When the Houston Astros acquired Zack Greinke at the July 31st trade deadline, Astros owner Jim Crane admitted that Greinke’s hefty contract will make it very tough for the team to re-sign star pitcher Gerrit Cole. As the season nears its end, Cole’s free agency looms ahead. We could be gearing up to a bid for his services.

The Downsides

The first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole has become one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past two seasons. Through his five seasons with the Pirates, Cole posted a solid 59-42 record with a 3.50 ERA. He also held a 1.22 WHIP, and 734 strikeouts in 782.1 innings pitched. While those numbers are overall pretty strong, Cole only had one truly great season in Pittsburgh. That was when he went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 208 innings pitched in 2015. His 2014 and 2016 seasons were hampered by injuries. Then, his 2017 campaign saw his ERA jump up to 4.26. The Pirates traded him in January of 2018 to the Houston Astros for right handed pitchers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove, along with outfielder Jason Martin and third baseman Colin Moran.

The Upsides

Ever since getting traded to Houston, Cole has been nothing short of fantastic. His 2018 campaign saw him post a 15-5 record with a 2.88 ERA. He also had 1.03 WHIP and 276 strikeouts (his 12.4 K/9 was the best rate in the majors). He became a dominant strikout pitcher once he got to Houston. That performance was good enough to earn him a fifth place finish the American League Cy Young voting. He’s followed up with an even more impressive season in 2019 thus far. He has posted a 15-5 record with a 2.81 ERA. His 0.953 WHIP and 266 strikeouts in 176.1 innings pitched (13.6 K/9) are really impressive as well.

Cole has been especially dominant since the end of May. He has posted a 1.98 ERA over the past three months. Opponents are hitting .183/.237/.337 over that stretch as well. His 13.6 K/9 is the highest strikeout for a qualified starting pitcher since Randy Johnson had a 13.4 K/9 in 2002. Cole is locked into a two-man race for the AL Cy Young with teammate Justin Verlander heading into the final month of the season.

The Market

While there are some intriguing names that are entering free agency this offseason (Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alex Wood), Cole is the best starting pitcher that will be on the market. He’s also only 28, which makes him the youngest starting pitcher that will be available. There aren’t a lot of big name players that are entering free agency. Cole may be the most sought-after free agent this offseason.

The Expected Contenders

There are a lot of teams that are going to be looking for pitching this offseason. The Yankees are definitely a team to keep an eye out for. They are tied for the best record in baseball, but they don’t have a single starter with an ERA under 4.00. The Phillies have performed below many people’s expectations, partially because outside of Aaron Nola, they don’t have any starters with an ERA below 4.50. Teams that are a little further away from contention such as the White Sox and Angels may also take a look at Cole as they try to shore up their weak starting rotations. While there are some smaller market teams that are also in need of starting pitching, Cole’s asking price would make it much harder for signing him to be in the cards.

The Expected Contract

Considering that Max Scherzer was able to get a seven-year $210-million contract entering his age 30 season, Cole should be able to get a contract that is similar to what Scherzer got. While teams are becoming more hesitant to give pitchers long term deals, expect Cole to get a contract within the range of five years and $150-million and seven years and $210-million. The Gerrit Cole free agency watch will be one of the most interesting topics this offseason.

Author Twitter: @maktheknife2000

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