2011 Draft: Catching up with Gerrit Cole

Link Dump: Sabathia, Triple-A Scranton Rotation, Three True Outcomes, Contraction
Record low attendances at Yankee Stadium this weekend

The Yankees knew they had landed themselves a gem in 2004 when they selected a high school kid by the name of Phil Hughes out of Southern California in the first round of the amateur draft. Four years later, they thought they had done it again. Baseball America called Gerrit Cole, a right-hander who could throw in the high 90s, the best high school pitcher since Hughes, and the Yanks picked him 28th in 2008. We knew the signing would go down to the wire, but Cole, a lifelong Yankee who went to the 2001 World Series as an 11-year-old, seemed likely to land in the Bronx.

On August 14, 2008, the bottom fell out. Word broke that Cole had opted for UCLA over the Yanks, and a three year mourning period began. In the intervening years, I’ve followed Cole closely.

For a young arm to opt for college over a lucrative deal from his favorite team is nearly unprecedented. First, it’s a very risky move. College coaches don’t pretend to care as much about their top pitchers’ arms as Major League organizations do, and they are more willing to overwork their youngsters to win now. If Cole got hurt at UCLA, his earnings potential would drop precipitously. Second, by eschewing the Yanks, odds were good that Cole wouldn’t have a chance to return to his favorite team until he’s a Major League free agent. If he becomes truly as good as advertised, he would become a top-five draft pick, and if he were to collapse, the Yanks would be entirely out of the picture all together. No small amount of emotion enters the picture.

Of course, in those intervening years, Cole has indeed been as good as advertised, and it stings. At UCLA, Cole, now a junior, has made a total of 41 appearances — 40 of those starts — and has been absolutely stellar. He has a 3.16 ERA in 256 IP and has given up 100 walks and 17 home runs while striking out 313. Barring an injury between now and June, either the Pirates or Mariners will take Cole as one of the first two picks of the draft. It stings.

In The Times today, Tyler Kepner profiled Cole, and it’s a fantastic read once Yankee fans get past the punch to the gut. “He’s a big C. C. Sabathia guy,” UCLA catcher and Cole’s former roommate Steve Rodriguez said. “He still is a huge Yankee fan. He gets intense when he watches their games.”

Kepner rehashes the negotiations:

Knowing they would exceed the recommended bonus for that slot, the Yankees waited until August to open negotiations with Cole’s adviser, Scott Boras. But by then, Cole and his family had decided that he would enroll at U.C.L.A. They told the Yankees not to make an offer, so the Yankees never did. Cole became the first high school pitcher in seven years to be drafted in the first round but choose college instead.

“The interesting thing is, everybody says he’s going to come out this year and make more money,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ amateur scouting director. “How does anybody know what we would have gone to?”

…In 2009, Cole told The Los Angeles Times that he and his family had done “just an absurd amount of thinking” about the decision, comparing future earnings of players who sign out of high school to those who choose college. Cole’s father, Mark, has two graduate degrees and a successful consulting business. Unlike most families of drafted players, financial considerations were a lower priority. The Cole could afford to take a long-term view.

To me, it’s still a strange equation. The Cole family never, as Oppenheimer notes, heard an offer from the Yanks because they didn’t want to. Furthermore, had baseball not worked out, Cole could have gone back to college. Thousands of players have gotten their degrees after or even during their careers. Instead, the family gambled and, depending upon what happens in June, just might come out ahead.

It’s clear that the Yanks still regret missing out on Cole and still feel misled. “We knew it was going to be a tough sign, but we also were told in predraft meetings with the family that he was willing to play pro ball and forgo college,” Brian Cashman said to The Times. “We rolled the dice and took our chances. Everybody has a right to change their mind.”

I’ve long wondered where Cole would fit in with the Yanks’ plans, and I asked Keith Law that question a few months ago. He believed Cole would be ready for the Major League pen right now and would be the organization’s second best pitching prospect behind Manny Banuelos. Instead, Cole, who thinks he could pitch in the majors by September, will wind up as the key piece to a club hoping to rebuild.

No matter where he goes, though, the Yankees expect to see big things. “At some point in his life, maybe he wants to become a Yankee again,” Oppenheimer said to Kepner. “I don’t want to ruin that by having some bitter attitude toward the guy. I do think he really likes playing baseball, and genuinely he’s a good kid.”

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Link Dump: Sabathia, Triple-A Scranton Rotation, Three True Outcomes, Contraction
Record low attendances at Yankee Stadium this weekend
  • XxYx

    Translation:
    We’ll steal him from the Pirates in a few years.

  • Pat D

    Yet, we must always remember TNSTAAPP.

    Bearing that in mind I hope he’s successful, even if he goes to the Mariners.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      This isn’t exactly the best use of TNSTAAPP. Cole is already a pitcher. He’s pretty much beyond the “work in progress” phase. If he stays healthy, he will be very good.

      • http://twitter.com/kschmidt2 Kiersten

        What the hell is TNSTAAPP?

        • JCK

          There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect

          (I had to Google it…)

      • Pat D

        But isn’t the “if he stays healthy” conundrum the reason why people started to use that term?

        I mean, if Brien Taylor had stayed healthy…

  • CMP

    I don’t know if I’d refer to Hughes as a “gem” just yet. The 2nd half of last year inclduing his 2 starts against Texas in the ALCS and his first start this year sure have left a lot to be desired.
    He’s way too young to bail out on yet, but I’m just sayin…

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      I use the term “gem” in the draft context. They were able to pick the top high school pitcher in the nation with a mid-20s pick. He’s still just 24.

      • http://twitter.com/kschmidt2 Kiersten

        To me, any pitcher who’s drafted and becomes a league average starting pitcher or better is a gem in draft terms.

        • CS Yankee

          true that!

          Beware though, there are a lot of gems and some of them aren’t worth their weight in bottled water.

        • CMP

          If Hughes is a “gem” then what would you call a Lincecum, Johnson or Verlander?

          • http://twitter.com/kschmidt2 Kiersten

            Aces.

  • Alfredo

    if this kid would have signed we would have had the #1 farm system. i would have been great hopefully he becomes a successfull pitcher in the majors.

    • Adam B

      could you imagine if we had him and porcello?

  • Alfredo

    and dont worry about hughes he will be just fine.( how many home runs will be hit today?)

  • Kyle

    Good luck wearing the baseball cap of your favorite team now you little douche. Tommy John’s a commin cause karma is a bitch.

    • Zack

      Really?

    • A.D.

      Bit rough, it was a protected pick, the Yanks lost minimally, and can’t blame a kid for wanting to go to college to be a stud athlete for a few years

  • http://twitter.com/Paddock9652 Stratman9652

    Probably a very stupid question, and I’ll admit up front I don’t know much about how the draft and such things work. But if the kid really wants to be a Yankee and the Yankees wanted him, couldnt they just sign him without going through the draft or does every single player have to go through the draft?

    • A.D.

      He’d have to go undrafted, more likely is as a guy with eligibility left he could say that it’s the Yankees or no one and then demand top pick money, but a team could still pick him out of spite

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      He has to go through the draft. If he wanted to become a free agent, he’d have to exhaust all five years of his college eligibility (wait until 2013) or go the another country and renounce his American citizenship, which isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds.

      • radnom


        which isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds

        I’m pretty sure if he goes to somewhere warm and sandy, grows a beard and gets a nice tan this wouldn’t be much of an obstacle.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          I’m pretty sure if he goes to somewhere warm and sandy, grows a beard and gets a nice tan this wouldn’t be much of an obstacle.

          Then people would just start calling him Brian Wilson instead.

          • Mike Myers

            THE MACHINE!

          • JCK

            Coincidentally, shortly after I read this comment, I went back to RAB.com and there was an ad for “a party in Brian Wilson’s Beard.” Strange.

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

      Americans have to go thru the draft. He should move elsewhere for a year to establish residency, then put himself up for bidding to get a real big bucks.

  • nathan

    Was disappointed when Yanks missed out. Surprised by his decision, good decision for him personally. Only gripe he could have told them, he wasted them an opportunity to get someone else in that draft (dont remember who was available @ 28 that could have panned out).

    One caveat though, we cant assume that he would have had a good progress through the ranks. Or even if he did, just look at Strasburg. These things can happen anytime. Very big risk, and luckily for him very big reward. I do believe there is no chance of him ever donning the pin stripes though.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      Hopefully Slade Heathcott will be able to ease the sting.

      • nathan

        True that.

      • Reggie C.

        Well, if Heathcott couldve put together a debut close to what Trout delivered, then the sting of losing Cole would’ve been lifted. That didn’t happen. Sting is still well embedded in the Yankee consciousness.

    • Gonzo

      Casey Kelly, Jake Odorizzi (the guy I wanted them to draft), Jordan Lyles (probably not a Yankee draft pick), and Lonnie Chisenhall (again, probably not a Yankee pick) went soon after Cole.

      Kind of funny if Casey Kelly had become a Yankee.

      • nathan

        Lol, wonder if he would have the 9 pitches he had last year. Its the chowder.

  • Mister Delaware

    You wonder if it was just a maturity thing. With the family financially solid, maybe they saw him turning pro before his 18th birthday as the bigger risk.

  • http://twitter.com/kschmidt2 Kiersten

    As a huge Yankee fan, I just don’t understand claiming to be a “huge Yankee fan” and turning down a multi-million dollar offer.

    Does not compute.

    • radnom

      At the same time, I can understand his decision.

      But I agree, its not the one I would’ve made either.

    • CMP

      If your family has money, why not enjoy the college experience. I’m sure he had a blast and was treated like a king at UCLA besides getting a great education. You can never get those years back. He can always become a Yankee when he eventually becomes a free agent.

      • http://twitter.com/kschmidt2 Kiersten

        He can always become a Yankee when he eventually becomes a free agent.

        Not if he suffers a career-ending injury in college, or just generally doesn’t wind up being very good. Luckily it worked out for him.

        • Gonzo

          He thought it was the right logical decision. I can totally understand. If I was a scout/player/GM/whatever, I would go were I thought was best for me. I wouldn’t just go to the Yanks because I love them. He did the right thing by himself, and that’s always the right move.

        • CMP

          If that were the case, he wouldn’t have made it to the Yankees anyway. He would have gotten stuck somewhere in the minor league system.

    • Rob NY

      We can’t forget that in the end it’s a business. The kid may be the biggest Yankee fan on Earth but didn’t think that taking their money was the best business move. I don’t like that him and his advisors sort of screwed the Yanks into thinking he’d be willing to sign but that’s a different aspect, as mentioned above.

      I hope he has a wonderful career for the Pirates and never makes it to the World Series.

  • YanksFan in MA

    He’s a top pitcher at UCLA and he’s set himself up for a major league contract at probably about 75% of what Strasburg got. I’m sure he had an amazing time for 3 years and that is priceless. Yes, he could have gone back and gotten his degree if his career didn’t work out after signing coming out of high school but there is no way he would have been able to have the same experience. He surely would have been the creepy old guy at the parties or living off campus taking classes while working. Not exactly the college experience people hold in such high regard. Hindsight is of course 20/20, but I’m sure he won’t for a second regret his decision. I’d love to be a Yankee, but I’d give anything to be playing for any team and most amateur players probably feel the same.

    • Rob NY

      I’ll be the advocate of the devil and say that if he’d signed as an 18 year old he’d be the king of New York by age 22. If he dominated like he has at ucla he’d be on all the morning shows, snl, and be a national figure. Imagine Jobamania x2 for a kid who comes up with NY and throws 98mph out of the pen and dominates as an Ace starter. What’s getting some college girls and drinking crappy beer in a dingy dorm room when you can be treated like royalty in the biggest city in the country? I don’t think that happens nearly as much when he comes up with Pittsburgh or Seattle.

      • boogie down

        Amen. College is a unique experience but, under the tutelage of better coaches, he could’ve reached the majors around this time. With his talent level, he could’ve been Frank White in no time, a la Derek Jeter.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    If he would have signed with the Yankees he couldn’t have grown that sweet, sweet beard.

  • AndrewYF

    I don’t believe money was ever the real issue. Apparently his father is a very successful businessman and their family is set for life.

    I can’t possibly begin to imagine being this kid, because I’ve never had a tenth of the amount of talent at anything as this guy does at throwing a baseball. But there’s something to be said for having a normal college experience, and I can definitely understand that.

    If Cole is destined to have an all-star career, I think he’d rather have it having first experienced the unique environment that is college (especially the unique experience that is being a star athlete in college), rather than spending 2 or 3 years in the crappy environment that is minor league baseball.

    I don’t begrudge the guy his decision at all. Once he becomes a free agent, if he still wants to, he can fulfill his dream of pitching for the Yankees, and the Yankees would certainly be more than willing to help him realize that.

    • CS Yankee

      Free Will should rule the day, this is America afterall.

      Don’t fault the kid. I seen him pitch during the CWS against SC and maybe he just wanted a few years of facial hair before george’s rules kicked-in.

  • http://bloodfarm.tumblr.com mattdamonwayans

    I don’t begrudge the kid for wanting to go to college; however, he turned down a huge payday and a chance to play for his favorite team to go to college for two years? If he signs this summer then he might as well have never gone to college. I guess his family isn’t THAT well off if he really wanted an couple million dollars extra.

    • Gonzo

      Ask a wealthy/rich person how much money he/she has. If they are smart, the answer is always “not enough.”

  • Nick

    I seriously hate this kid….

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    Cole’s father, Mark, has two graduate degrees and a successful consulting business.

    I don’t have two graduate degrees or a successful consulting business, but I’m still smart enough to know that no matter how many studies you’ve read/done on the long-term earnings potential of prep pitcher draftees v. college pitcher draftees, etc. you ALWAYS let the Yankees make you an offer.

    Turning down an offer after having reviewed it because you’re going long on pork bellies is understandable if not necessarily wise.

    Telling the richest team in the history of North American professional sports, the team that’s probably spent THREE TIMES AS MUCH money on draftees, IFAs, and free agents as their closest rival over the past three decades, the team that owns/is owned by the biggest regional sports network in history and is about to open a 1.2B U.S. Mint subheadquarters disguised as a baseball stadium, the team that could probably literally buy two or three other MLB baseball teams and run them as farm academies if it wasn’t against the rules, the team that has a quasi-personal relationship with the agent responsible for 60-70% of the biggest contracts in baseball history… telling THAT team “Don’t even bother to give us an offer”, that’s fucking stupid.

    Like Oppenheimer says, the Cole family has no idea how far the team was willing to go to sign Gerrit. What if the starting offer had been 20M upfront and a 40 man spot? Voluntarily forfeiting an option and guaranteeing him a spot on the active roster by two years minimum? Letting him enroll in UCLA as a fulltime student and live on campus and flying him to all his starts via private jet? Jennifer Steinbrenner-Swindal’s hand in marriage? They’ll never know. The Coles might have sat down with the Yankees and said “We feel like Gerrit has a chance to make an extra 10M in his first 6 years as a pro by waiting and going to college” only to hear the team say “We’ll match that and double it and put it in a Swiss bank account right now. We love your son and will do anything to get him in pinstripes.

    Refusing to entertain an offer from the 800lb gorilla: dumb. There’s a reason EVERY SINGLE FREE AGENT always says he’d consider playing for the Yankees and would entertain an offer.

    Dumb.

    • Gonzo

      They had Boras as an agent, oops I mean advisor. I am sure they knew the realm of possibilities. There is no way the Yankees would give the offer you mentioned, nor would Bud approve it.

      Jack McGeary had one of those go to school and pitch for us on your time off deals. Didn’t end so well.

    • Mister Delaware

      Your scenario is fine as long as money is the end all, be all of the situation, or atleast so important it can literally buy out your interest in all of the other factors. I don’t know the Coles, I don’t know if that was the thought process or not, but if they’re well off and Gerrit was going to be happier spending a few years in college, its rather dumb to just label their decision-making process dumb.

      (And welcome back. You’ve been missed around here.)

  • Reggie C.

    The one good thing drawn from this follow up is the apparent no feelings of ill will held by gerrit cole against the Bombers. Maybe five or six years from now, whatever perennial loser drafts Cole will be willing to deal.

  • jsbrendog

    oppenheimer took the classy road and i love that

  • Paul T

    Kills me that we lost out on cole…over the long haul, wouldn’t we need to compare the career of cole’s with Slade and Brett Marshall (I think they paid over slot once they knew that cole wasn’t coming)?

  • Russ

    To me, the key line in the whole thing was the fact that Damon Oppenheimer has maintained a relationship with the kid.

    I hope he goes to the Pirates, and with their throwing a ton of money into player development the past few years I don’t see any reason for them not to draft him. Let him go there and become an ace. In fact, I hope he’s right and he’s in the bigs by this summer.

    Get that service time ticking and if he’s as good as advertised, and healthy the chances are pretty good that we sign a fully developed Gerrit Cole in 6 years. When you put the pieces together, his Yankee love, the Damon connection, toiling in Pittsburgh for 6 years, it’s a perfectly logical scenario for him to be in the Bronx in 6 years time.