With the playoffs out of reach, the most entertaining things for Mariners fans to watch for are the trade deadline, young players developing, and who the team could target in the free-agent market this off-season. One player that would be a great fit is Houston Astros right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole.
As was covered on the site about a week ago, the 2019-2020 MLB free-agent market isn’t brimming with players that are young enough were making a long term financial commitment might make sense for the rebuilding Mariners.
However, if the Mariners decide to spend in free agency (and they clearly have the money to do so if desired) then Cole could be a target and would fill an obvious need in the starting rotation and help the team meet the desired goal of being a playoff contender in 2021.
Before diving deeper into why Cole might be a fit, one must first look back at the 2014 Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were not good that year and were also in the middle of a rebuild, just like the current Mariners. The spent the season, and the years prior, unloading bad contracts, bringing in prospects, and saving money for when their prospects were ready.
After the 2014 season, the Cubs knew they were short on pitching so they decided to go out and sign Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contracts before the 2015 season. That season saw the Cubs make a drastic turnaround in which the team reached the National League Championship Series.
While the Cubs had young players develop and take on key roles, Lester was vital to the team’s success that year. Not only did the investment in Lester pay off in 2015, but Lester was even better in 2016, going 19-5 and leading the Cubs to a World Series Championship.
Not a bad blueprint for the Mariners to follow, right?
Flash forward back to the Mariners and one can see that this current team needs a bona fide top of the rotation starter. While Marco Gonzales has been leading the staff this year, he is much better-suited pitching in the middle of a rotation, not the top of it. Also, the Mariners will have holes in their rotation next year.
Felix Hernandez will depart via free agency and Mike Leake will most likely be traded sometime between now and the start of the 2020 season. Cole as a fit for the Mariners is obvious, the question though is does signing Cole make sense for the team in relation to where they currently are in the rebuild?
Signing Cole will not be easy or cheap. He is arguably the top free agent on the market next year and multiple teams will be going after him, meaning the Mariners will have to overpay to get Cole to consider them.
The nice part of this situation is that Cole is represented by Scott Boras and Boras usually likes his clients going after the biggest contract they can get. If the Mariners back up the Brinks truck for Cole, then Boras will likely advise him to overlook their current position in the standings.
Think about when the Mariners signed Robinson Cano. How many “experts” saw that one coming? At the end of the day, the all mighty dollar speaks loudly in free agency and the Mariners have the money to make Cole a strong offer.
For the Mariners, they would have to see Cole as their version of Lester. A pitcher that they know will be on the downside of his career in the back half of the contract, but one that could be the infusion at the top of the rotation that they need to get things rolling toward the playoffs. They will have to overpay to lure Cole to Seattle, but it’s not as far fetched as one might think.
Cole’s current team, the Astros, will probably want him back, but will they have the money to do so? The Astros have some big free-agent decisions looming over the next couple of years with offensive stalwarts like George Springer and Carlos Correa not that far away from free agency themselves. Could the Astros pass on Cole and give his spot in the rotation to one of their promising pitching prospects like Forrest Whitley in order to save money for Springer and/or Correa?
Other contenders such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will always be interested in a player like Cole and have to be considered threats, but luxury tax concerns have seen both franchises practice financial restraint the last few years.
The Mariners’ biggest obstacle might just be the Los Angeles Angels. Cole is from Orange, California and went to UCLA and the Angels clearly need pitching help. They also have to do something to get Mike Trout back to the playoffs.
The Mariners can offer Cole a West Coast locale (if he wants to get closer to home) and a ballpark that is ideally suited for pitchers, something Cole doesn’t currently have in the bandbox in Houston. Location and ballpark won’t be enough to lure Cole to the Pacific Northwest. What else do the Mariners have to do to get involved in the Cole sweepstakes? Pay up.
The negotiation likely starts by using Patrick Corbin’s deal with the Nationals as the launch point (six years and $140 million). That seems like a lot of money, but again, if the Mariners go this route that means they’ve identified Cole as a difference-maker.
One that will sit atop the rotation on the next Mariners playoff team and one that will be able to be a prominent member of the rotation (not necessarily always the “ace”) for the duration of the contract.
Here is the proposed contract:
This is clearly a large deal for the Mariners, but the yearly average is $30 million, which isn’t much more than what they have coming off the books from the departure of Hernandez (he’s making $27.5 million this year). Remember, this is a Mariners team that has few salary commitments long term and if Cole turns out to be their version of Lester then the deal will pay off.
At some point, the Mariners will have to dive in headfirst into free agency. Could they start that this year by making a run at Cole? Snagging a player like Cole might really help the team move toward contention. Plus snagging a star now doesn’t hurt if the team wants a chance at adding another star in free agency down the road.