No one ever expected the Nationals to make a World Series run in 2019.
Scherzer has written the final bullets of his Hall of Fame resume in Washington, authoring two no-hitters (one nearly a perfect game) in his first season alone. Scherzer has won two Cy Young Awards since moving to the National League and has been a finalist five times. Delivering a World Series title was merely icing on the cake.
Winning is so expected in New York, it was viewed as an abject organizational failure when the Yankees neglected to deliver a championship in the last decade. When Cole signed his cartoonish contract – to be paid $324 million over the next nine seasons – the expectation was clear: return the pinstripes to the mountaintop.
The Yankees are betting $36 million a year that Cole – who went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 2019 – will deliver more than he doesn't.
Scherzer was 30 when he first took the mound for the Nationals and has arguably lived up to his contract better than any star to a mega-deal before him. Can Cole, entering his age 29 season, match that level of success with the Yankees?
To frame this up nicely, let's flesh out Scherzer's accomplishments that can be quantified.
In five seasons with the Nationals, Scherzer has collected about every accolade imaginable as a five-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young Award winner, two-time wins leader and three-time NL strikeout leader. He's also recorded two immaculate innings (2017, 2018), meaning he's struck out all three batters in an inning using the minimum number of pitches (nine) possible.
Scherzer was an All-Star twice (2013-14) before joining Washington, won an AL Cy Young Award in 2013, and led the AL in wins twice (2013-14).
Cole enters 2019 as a three-time All-Star, one-time AL ERA leader (2019) and one-time AL strikeout leader (2019). Without getting too in the weeds, Cole is starting from a similar level of success with the Yankees as Scherzer did with the Nationals. It's what comes next that will mean all the difference.
The most logical way to answer the unanswerable, it seems, is to quantify what Scherzer's presence has meant to the franchise in terms of postseason success.
Scherzer has made 10 postseason appearances for the Nationals, eight of them starts, going 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA. All three wins came in the 2019 postseason and all six of his appearances during that run were made in games that resulted in Nationals victories. In that respect, the Nats have paid Scherzer $21 million per postseason appearance ($210M / 10 postseason appearances), six of which have resulted in postseason wins and a World Series title.
Of course in reality they've gotten much greater bang for their buck than just Scherzer's postseason success, but for the sake of the argument, let's agree it cost them $126 million ($21M x 6 postseason appearances) for Scherzer's contributions to a World Series title.
For Cole to bring that same value – or greater – to the Yankees, he'd need to win at least one World Series by 2024 at a theoretical cost of $194.4 million to the franchise. That's a highly imperfect (read: foolish) and roundabout way of saying the question you're really asking is: Could you see the Yankees winning a World Series with Cole in the next five years? And would it be worth the additional freight they're willing to pay to make that happen?
The Yankees sure hope so.
It may take years to properly answer this question. For now, we can begin to proffer a guess on Thursday, when the World Series champion Nationals host the Yankees on Opening Day.
When Scherzer and Cole are on the mound.