The Yankees Can’t Be So Sure That This Player Won’t Opt Out
By Derek McAdam
November 29, 2023
The MLB off-seasons typically follow a relatively similar pattern every year, in which the dominoes don’t begin to fall until after the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, there are always a few minor signings that occur, but the league’s first big signing this off-season came earlier in the week, when it was announced that ex-Yankee Sonny Gray was heading to St. Louis on a three-year, $75 million contract. It’s a very nice contract for Gray, who has performed well in his career outside of the Bronx.
But the New York Yankees are also expected to heavily pursue several top free agents, including Cody Bellinger and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was just posted by the league and will command a nine-figure contract. While the Yankees are looking to find an outfielder, it seems as if they are, once again, focused on landing a big-name pitcher. While the Yankees already have two pitchers that are have nine-figure contracts, one of which won the Cy Young Award for this past season and one who was hurt and had more bad starts than good in his first season in the Bronx, they don’t seem to be shy about adding a third.
However, the Yankees cannot be so sure that the former, Gerrit Cole, will be around past the 2024 season with the Yankees. Cole is entering his fifth season with the Yankees, and his nine-year, $324 million contract came with an opt-out clause after the fifth year. New York does have the option to add an extra year worth $36 million on his contract if he were to opt out, which would bring the total deal to 10-years, $360 million. This would also void the opt-out if the Yankees added this clause, meaning that Cole would not hit the free agent market.
Prior to last off-season, I figured that the Yankees would be stuck with Cole until at least the 2028 season, as there would be no possible way that Cole would want to opt-out at age-34, while also leaving $144 million on the table. If he was a couple of years younger, that may be a different story. But then the Texas Rangers paid Jacob deGrom $185 million over five years. And then my opinion took a drastic turn.
Did the Rangers overpay for deGrom’s services? Absolutely. There is no question that deGrom is one of the best pitchers in the league when he is healthy. But that’s the problem. deGrom has had his share of injuries over the past few seasons, having most recently undergone Tommy John Surgery. He will likely miss most of the 2024 season, although he is eyeing an August return.
It’s worth mentioning that deGrom just turned 35 in June, the first year of his contract, meaning that he will be 39 when the deal expires. If Cole were to get a five-year deal next off-season, he would also be 39 at the conclusion of that hypothetical deal. Plus, Cole has been injury-free for most of his career and has continued to be one of the few workhorses that remain in the league. My Yankee bias will show, but I would gladly take Cole’s availability over deGrom’s ability any day of the week.
The question is whether or not Cole can get a contract that big for his age. I definitely think it is a possibility that it could happen, especially if he has a solid 2024 season.
Cole and Aaron Judge are going to be actively involved in the Yankees’ off-season, and rightfully so. Both players are tremendously respected in the locker room, and Judge has said that he thinks that the Yankees should focus less on analytics and more on batting averages and RBIs. And he’s not wrong. It’s not to say as if the players will be calling the shots, but Brian Cashman may ask them what they’ve heard about certain players.
But in Cole’s situation, I couldn’t blame him if he wanted to jump ship after the 2024 season. He’s not holding the team hostage by saying that he wants a trade out, but he wants to be actively involved in the off-season to see if the front office is legitimately trying to piece together a World Series-caliber team. After all, Cole has not won a ring in his MLB career.
There is no question in my mind that Cole is trying to win a ring. He has always praised his teammates during his excellent starts and seems to be willing to work with anyone that requests it. Whenever YES Network would pan to Cole in the dugout during off days, he was usually always striking up a conversation with someone, and it seemed to be a different player or coach every time.
Remember, all of this is a hypothetical situation. Cole would only opt-out for two reasons: if he thought that he could get a chance to compete for a World Series in free agency, while hoping that the Yankees don’t invoke their clause, or intentionally do it so that the Yankees add an extra year to his deal. It is currently a situation that Yankee fans don’t want to think about, but it will something that will eventually come.
One thing is for certain, and that’s the fact that Cole will be playing in a Yankee uniform in 2024. Hopefully, he can lead the Yankees to a deep playoff run that results in a World Series. I know it seems far-fetched right now, because it is, but I’m trying to be somewhat optimistic for the upcoming season.