When the Yankees want a free agent — think CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka — they do not play poker.
They see no sense bluffing about dollars. They know that the price for entry is the top of the market — made more obvious in this case because Gerrit Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, doesn’t do discounts with this type of star.
So what the Yankees pitched Tuesday when they met face-to-face in California with Cole was to sell what is distinct about them, which is both ends of their name: New York and Yankees. It is what they did with Mike Mussina. It is what they did with Sabathia. It is what they did with Tanaka.
They let the star free-agent pitchers know they were the Yankees’ No. 1 choice. They let them know that if the feeling was mutual that money would not be an issue. This doesn’t mean giving a blank check and letting Cole and Boras take the numbers wherever they want. But it also means the Yankees see no reason to bluff about their intentions — essentially their strategy is: We are in, are you? If so, a record amount for a pitcher is waiting. It is why they did not discuss finances Tuesday with Cole. It is understood that the Yankees don’t fly 6,000 miles round trip frivolously. If they are there, they are in big time.
But is the feeling mutual?
Cole’s Astros teammate, Josh Reddick, said near the end of the season that he expects the righty to prioritize being near his Newport Beach home, and both the Angels and Dodgers are also in on the ace. Those teams, like the Yankees, have gotten face time with the player.
Can the Yankees overcome geography?
They did with Mussina, a small-town Pennsylvania guy initially hesitant to go bright lights, big city. They did with Sabathia, who initially preferred the West Coast before he heard Cashman’s direct pitch — and, of course, before the Yankees blew away the competition financially.
Cole grew up a Yankees fan. But that didn’t help when they used the 28th pick in the 2008 draft on Cole, who instead decided to attend UCLA. Patrick Corbin grew up a Yankees fan and was the team’s top free-agent target last offseason. But when the Yankees would not approach the six-year commitment that the Nationals were making, the lefty went to Washington for $140 million. Keep in mind, Corbin’s camp asked for a sit-down in New York after the Yankees already had let the group know they weren’t going six years. With Cole, the Yankees contingent flew across the country. Symbolism clear.
Cole also is close with his sister, Erin, who passed the New York State bar last July and lives in New York. So, he has instant family if he were to play his games in The Bronx.
Really, I think the geography is overstated. Cole is thoughtful, cosmopolitan. Those who know him say that he is truly interviewing the teams here and not about where in the United States they are located.
Which is why new pitching coach Matt Blake’s presence at the meeting should not be overlooked. Cole has played for one of the most sophisticated pitching shops in the majors the last two years in Houston, enjoying probably his two best seasons. Blake was hired in place of Larry Rothschild to further invest the Yankees in what is viewed as the more modern approach to preparing pitchers mentally, physically and tactically. Cole, those who know him say, will want to hear the right stuff from Blake and the Yankees about biomechanics, sleep, nutrition, etc. If he senses an organization is a few modernity steps behind — like say the Angels may be to the Dodgers and Yankees — that will have an impact with a player viewed by his colleagues as curious.
Cole will not surrender what is best for his career if the money is equivalent just to be in Southern California.
So it will be curious if the sales pitch of what New York and the Yankees could offer wins Cole over like it did Mussina, Sabathia and Tanaka, but not Cliff Lee. Just look at the charitable/media presence Sabathia has become from his time in the city. Does Mussina’s borderline Hall of Fame career push over that line without his association with New York and the Yankees? The organization is renowned for what it makes available to players and families. The organization has never been shy about selling the history of the club and what it means to be part of that history.
There usually is a video involved of Yankees greats and city icons and history and sweeping music. There are the record 27 championships and more than a subliminal message delivered about what it would mean to a player and his legacy to be integral to No. 28 and No. 29.
This is the Yankees’ way when they really want a free agent. No poker. They lay it all on the table. The city, the history, the understanding about being financially in it to win it. Then they leave it to the star player to decide if they want New York and the Yankees.
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