Almost regardless of what happens between now and Opening Day, the New York Yankees assured Tuesday night that they'll be viewed as the biggest winner of the offseason, as they inked RHP Gerrit Cole to a record nine-year/$324 million deal.
Cole, 29, is a three-time All-Star, and has been arguably the best pitcher in the sport over the past two seasons. He'll join a Yankees team that's lost to his former team, the Houston Astros, in the ALCS two times in the last three years, including in 2019, when Cole was pitching against them.
Here are the early winners and losers of Cole landing with the Bronx Bombers:
Winner: New York Yankees
The Yankees haven't won - or appeared - in the World Series since 2009, which is a lifetime by the standards of the most historically successful organization in baseball.
By adding Cole, the Yankees have immediately made themselves the favorites to win the 2020 World Series. Not only will they add him to the top of a rotation that already includes Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino, but they weakened their biggest competition in the American League, the Houston Astros.
There's a legitimate discussion to be had about how Cole's deal will age (assuming he doesn't opt out after the fifth year of the deal), but if the past two seasons are any indication, he'll be a consistent American League Cy Young Award contender in the first half decade of his deal. By the back-half of his contract, he may no longer be that, but the $36 million average annual value in his deal may not seem as staggering as it does now either.
Loser: Los Angeles Angels
Though there's a small consolation in the division-rival Houston Astros losing their best player, the Angels are the biggest loser in the Cole sweepstakes.
Despite Cole being from Orange County and having played his college ball at UCLA, he elected to head to the Yankees, as the Angels offered him less than $300 million, per RADIO.COM MLB Insider Bob Nightengale.
Even with the Astros losing Cole, they'll still enter 2020 as the favorites to win the American League West. The Oakland Athletics have won 97 games in each of the last two seasons. The Texas Rangers have been connected to star third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, so they could still improve.
Meanwhile, the Angels, despite employing Mike Trout, haven't reached the postseason since 2014. And Joe Maddon as their biggest offseason pick-up isn't going to take them from 80 wins to a World Series contender anytime soon.
Whether you root for the Yankees or against them, the sport is at its healthiest when the Yankees are the overwhelming World Series favorites. Or, as Cespedes Family BBQ put it, "baseball is better when the Yankees are a fully operational Death Star."
Parity be damned, baseball was probably at its healthiest state over the last 25 years when the Yankees played their division rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in the ACLS in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004. Aaron Boone, now the Yankees manager, sent the Evil Empire back to the World Series with a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. That moment, for the large swath of Yankees detractors, made it even sweeter when the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead in the 2004 ALCS, which the Red Sox capped off with a 10-3 blowout win at the old Yankee Stadium in Game 7.
Whether it'll be the Red Sox or not, whoever plays the Yankees in the postseason will immediately become the rest of America's favorite team. Baseball is at its best when things are like that.
Loser: Houston Astros
Over the past two seasons, Cole went 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA, 2.67 FIP and a 13.4 fWAR, which trails only Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer over that stretch. But while the Astros won 210 regular season games over the past two seasons, they'll lose Cole without having won a World Series title with him. He's joining a team that may prevent this era's Astros team from adding a second World Series title.
And yet, losing Cole almost felt like an afterthought for the Astros Tuesday at the MLB Winter Meetings.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch spent the bulk of his session with the press yesterday dancing around questions about MLB's ongoing investigation into what appears to be indisputable evidence that they stole signs using video cameras and...trashcans.
Shortly after Hinch spoke, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Astros having considered potentially trading star shortstop Carlos Correa, aware of mounting payroll challenges that the team's general manager, Jeff Lunhow, spoke about Tuesday.
The Astros have topped the 100-win mark in each of the past three seasons, appeared in the ALCS in three consecutive years, won two American League pennants in the last three years and won the 2017 World Series.
But, it's becoming clear that to sustain this type of success, they'll have to overcome challenges. Cole is now gone. Former World Series MVP George Springer can become a free agent after 2020. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are both on the wrong side of 35. And there are mounting questions about the ethics of the organization. Houston, we've reached a crossroads.