Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole is scheduled to hit the open market, where he figures to be the most sought-after pitcher available. Cole is a three-time All-Star having another strong season, as he's 14-5 with a 2.87 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and an MLB-high 226 strikeouts in 156 2/3 innings across 25 starts.
Cole will turn 29 in September, and he's earned a trip to each of the past two All-Star Games. He was scratched from his scheduled start against the White Sox on Tuesday evening because of right hamstring tightness.
"I have watched Gerrit over the last few years, and we know (free agency) is out there for him," manager A.J. Hinch said as his Astros visited the White Sox this week. "We lost a few key free agents last year. It really is a non-topic in our clubhouse because of the quality of the team and the quality of the players we have. It is more the pressure they put on themselves going into their free-agent year. Gerrit has no fear. It is about how he prepares and how he competes. That is why he is one of the elite pitchers in baseball."
Cole would be an ideal fit for either Chicago team. The Cubs have a payroll of around $210 million this season but will have around $50 million coming off the books with left-hander Cole Hamels, utilityman Ben Zobrist, reliever Pedro Strop, reliever Steve Cishek and reliever Brandon Kintzler set to become free agents. The Cubs need to add a younger starter to their veteran rotation, which will have left-hander Jon Lester and left-hander Jose Quintana entering free agency after the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, the White Sox have made no secret about their desire to chase big free agents and understand they need to add a frontline starter to their young rotation.
"Cole would be an amazing addition to our staff," White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito said. "Us young guys in the rotation are starting to figure things out. We have grown together, and that will continue when (Michael) Kopech and (Carlos) Rodon get healthy. To bring a Gerrit Cole -- who is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball with some of the most dominant stuff in baseball -- I think would be an amazing addition. Just knowing he will have high-velocity stuff and prescience every time with strikeouts and skill, that would help us. It would be great to learn from him."
Judging by the lucrative contracts signed by ace pitchers in years past, a rough outline for a Cole deal could be in the six-year, $180-million range. The White Sox will certainly have the payroll flexibility to be a serious bidder. They opened 2019 with a payroll of around $91.5 million (24th in MLB), and they have no onerous contracts on the books for 2020.
Whomever the White Sox add, they want it to be someone who can lead with his performance on the field and actions off of it.
"We will have our young core growing each season," manager Rick Renteria said. "You want to make sure you bring in the guys who have had success and go about doing what they do to impart bits of information and knowledge that they have obtained during their career. By example, we would want that guy to show our pitchers what has worked for them."