Through a disappointing 2023 campaign for the New York Yankees, there remained one bright spot, and his name is Gerrit Cole. Cole’s light was rewarded last night, as he was named the AL Cy Young by a unanimous vote, the first of his highly impressive and potentially one day Hall of Fame career. This award was well deserved, as Cole posted a 2.63 ERA in 2023 with 222 strikeouts, a WHIP under 1, and an MVP level 7.4 baseball reference WAR.
Even more impressively, Cole started all 33 games he could have in 2023, providing durability in a year where that was a problem for almost every pitcher in baseball. Starters like Sandy Alcantara, Jacob DeGrom, and fellow Yankees Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes were hampered with injuries, and it was clear that a lot of them failed to adjust to the tempo of the pitch clock the league implemented in 2023. Cole was brilliant with this, proving his adaptability and brain are almost as good as his ability to pitch.
Cole finished second in Cy Young voting twice before, and it was great for him to finally get one off his back. He was definitely the best pitcher in the league to not win one yet, and he can add it to a resume that is growing every year. But Cole’s goal when he got to New York was not just Cy Youngs. When he signed an illustrious nine year 324 million dollar contract with the Yankees in December 2019, the word used by him and owner Hal Steinbrenner was championships.
That Failed Goal
After his fourth year as a Yankee is finished, the Yankees are no closer to that goal than they were when they signed him. They lost Game 6 of the ALCS the year before he got there, and since then their peak was an ALCS sweep in 2022. They just finished 82-80 and missed the playoffs last year, and with several key players regressing last year, it doesn’t seem like things will get better quickly.
This is absolutely not on Cole, as he has done everything asked of him as a Yankee. He has been extremely durable, almost always great, and delivered in the postseason other than a questionable start in the 2021 wild card game at Fenway Park. The responsibility is on the Yankees to get him the pieces he needs, and in terms of rotation help they haven’t done that.
Their rotation has been extremely injury prone, and while this is not the direct fault of the front office, questions need to be asked. For example, 2022 trade deadline acquisition Frankie Montas was acquired when dealing with shoulder issues, and those issues have not gone away as he barely pitched any innings in 2023. Carlos Rodon, who was acquired for a large 6 year 162 million dollar contract, was either injured or terrible every time he pitched in 2023.
This has basically meant that if Gerrit Cole isn’t starting, it is on the offense to help the Yankees win, and it’s unfortunate that they have had several key bats regress. Guys like Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Anthony Rizzo all struggled with injuries and underperformance in 2023, and as they are all thirty-four or older it’s hard to see that getting better. It gives opposing lineups confidence when they know they only need a few crucial hits, and that’s been the case in New York.
What the Yankees Should Do
The reality is, the Yankees only have a few more years in which Gerrit Cole and 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge will both be in their primes. They have a choice to make, capitalize on these years or waste them. To capitalize, they should be aggressive in acquiring top talents this offseason, such as Yoshibu Yamamato from Japan or Cody Bellinger from the Cubs.
These will be expensive players, and it may be risky for the Yankees, but I just don’t see how they clearly improve this team otherwise. They can trade for Juan Soto, but who knows if the Padres will allow that or how much it would cost. They could rely on their young guys, but that would be questionable as the Yankees have a history of big prospects failing. They could also just run it back, a disastrous scenario which works for no one but the Yankees might try.
It’s just important that a sense of urgency is instilled in the franchise, and I hope this Cy Young announcement does that. You have a great talent here, but at 33 he isn’t getting younger, and he will probably not get that much better. Let us hope they don’t waste his potential.