In two seasons with the Houston Astros, RHP Gerrit Cole has developed intro arguably the best pitcher in baseball. The 29-year-old is likely to win the 2019 American League Cy Young Award after going 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP and 7.4 fWAR in 2019.
Cole is also overwhelmingly likely to exit Houston after two seasons. If Astros owner Jim Crane citing luxury tax concerns when asked about retaining Cole wasn't enough to draw this conclusion, his actions after the team lost Game 7 of the World Series probably were. Not only did Cole speak to reporters while wearing a Boras Corporation hat, he joked that he was "technically unemployed" and referred to his time in Houston as having been "a pleasure."
There's also the right mix of major-market teams in need of a frontline starter for Cole to cash in on a record-setting contract this offseason. Here are the four teams most likely to sign the most coveted pitcher to reach the free-agent market in some time:
New York Yankees
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was unwilling to part with the necessary package to acquire Cole in a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates in January of 2018. Cashman was reminded of that when Cole and the Houston Astros defeated the New York Yankees in the ALCS in 2019, eliminating them from the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
The quickest way for the Yankees to shift the power dynamic in the American League would be for them to sign Cole this offseason. And, in an expected development, SNY's Andy Martino says that the team does indeed plan to pursue Cole in free agency.
Geography may not work in the Yankees' favor, as Cole is from California. However, while New York's 8.82 percent income tax rate is high compared to the rest of the country, it isn't when compared to the 13.30 percent rate in California. It's possible that when taxes are factored in, joining the Yankees would be most profitable - and that doesn't even include potential endorsements.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels may be the favorite to ultimately land Cole.
ESPN's Buster Olney has reported that "industry expectation" is that Cole will sign with the Angels. Cole is from Orange County, so the Angels would qualify as his hometown team.
What's more, the Angels are a major-market team that's been saddled by poor free-agent contracts, leaving them unable to put a competitive team around two-time American League MVP Mike Trout. But there are just two seasons left on Albert Pujols' 10-year/$240,000 million deal and Trout is now in his late-20s. It's time to put a contending team around the greatest player of this era, and Cole would represent the best chance to do that.
If the Angels were able to sign Cole away from the division-rival Astros, he would join a rotation that's also expected to include Shohei Ohtani in 2020. As he recovered from Tommy John surgery, Ohtani didn't pitch in 2019, but the two-way star was electric when he did pitch in 2018, going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts. Those two would drastically improve an Angels rotation that posted a 5.12 ERA in 2019, and give the Angels a shot at reaching the postseason for the first time since 2014.
After an offseason where they signed Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, while trading for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, the Phillies disappointed in 2019, going just 81-81.
Gabe Kapler was fired after two seasons at the helm, and replaced by Joe Girardi. General manager Matt Klentak said at the press conference that introduced Girardi that the Phillies want to win "right now." The quickest path to doing that in the highly-competitive National League East would be to sign Cole.
The Phillies biggest issue in 2019 was their starting rotation. Aaron Nola saw some regression after a dominant 2018, but he was the least of the Phillies problems. The trio of Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez failed to step up, something the team was counting on. Jake Arrieta's season was ended prematurely by bone spurs in his elbow. It may prove to be too tall of a task for the team to make the necessary upgrades to their starting rotation in one offseason to edge out the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets in the National League East, but a pitcher as dominant as Cole can make up for a lot of other deficiencies.
To land Cole, the Phillies almost certainly would have to be the highest bidder. Even then, it's unclear if they would secure him. Some of Cole's Astros teammates reportedly think that he would like to sign with a team that plays in California, and if he is willing to come east, the Yankees would offer him a much clearer path to a World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite winning a National League-best 106 games in 2019, the Dodgers failed to win their third consecutive National League pennant, as they were upset by the eventual World Series Champion Washington Nationals in the NLDS. Despite winning 919 regular season games this decade, the Dodgers still haven't won a World Series since 1988.
While the Dodgers may be more likely to make a play for Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor via trade, the stage does appear to be set for president Andrew Friedman to make a major transaction in an attempt to push the team over the top in 2020. And a rotation with Cole, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler at the top of it would be pretty scary.
The Angels may be Cole's technical hometown team, but the UCLA product would have a more immediate chance to compete if he joined the Dodgers, and he would still get to live in Los Angeles.