Why (and how) the Astros and Gerrit Cole should stay together
Gerrit Cole is in the midst of Cy Young run this year. Cole, who turned 29 on Sunday, is 16-5 this year with a 2.73 ERA and has 281 strikeouts. He would be the going away choice for the award if it weren't for teammate Justin Verlander who's18-5 with a 2.52 ERA and has 264 strikeouts. Cole is set to test free agency this offseason for the first time in his career. I don't fault him for wanting to explore his options. How often do you get to be at the peak of your profession, able to pick who and where you work while simultaneously commanding one of the best salaries in your field? Anyone of us would be chomping at the bit to do so. I believe there's a way for the Astros and Cole to stay together and here's how/why:
The Astros are set up to win and compete for World Series titles over the next few years. Verlander is signed for another two years, so is recently acquired Zack Greinke (15-5, 2.99 ERA, 167 strikeouts). This starting rotation is scary. Most great teams have had two high end starters. The 1990s Braves at one point had four. This could be the closest thing we've seen since those Braves teams. Did I mention the lineup they have? Guys like Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve are locked up for several more seasons as well. Other teams may be able to offer winning as a carrot to dangle, but can they offer it long term?
Here's where the rubber meets the road with most contract negotiations. Most guys are looking tot cash in and get paid. Top of the line pitchers command anywhere from $25-35 million a year on contracts these days. With the way Cole has pitched (and his age), he's looking at a monster deal in terms of annual average value and length. The Astros can compete by structuring his deal with a lower salary the first two years and jacking it up starting in year three. This will offset the two years in which they're paying Verlander and Greinke, as well as others on the team who have big deals.
Cole and his wife are both Southern California natives. The Dodgers, Angels and Padres are all in SoCal. All three teams can afford to back up a Brinks truck in order to pay him and could use a pitcher of his caliber. However, California also has some of the most outrageous taxes in this country, whereas Texas has no state income tax. Factor in the cost of living difference, and he could make more money by choosing to stay with the Astros even if they pay him less annually. Besides, I'll take hurricanes over earthquakes every time in the natural disaster debate.
Strom is the Astros pitching coach. He's also apparently a pitcher whisperer. Strom has been able to get the most out of guys regardless of their natural talent. He's made guys like Charlie Morton and Wade Miley seem like those Picaso paintings people buy dirt cheap and later realize what they truly have. Strom is the reason Cole has pitched the way he has the last couple years. Who's to say he's going to continue pitching this way without Strom's tutelage?
If the Astros win another World Series and Cole left for the biggest offer he could get, I wouldn't blame him. Still wouldn't blame him if he took such an offer if they don't win it all because it's ultimately his decision. Fans have to realize they'd all do the same thing if the shoe were on the othwer foot. However, if he factors in the reasons I've listed here, someone should cue the Al Green and we should all get ready for a few more years of title runs.