The Yankee Death Star Is Back

Hernandez struggled badly in the last three years of his deal with Seattle, but he was a fan favorite who set almost every Mariners pitching record. The Arizona Diamondbacks ultimately could not afford Greinke’s salary, but four years into his six-year contract, he is still a star. The Boston Red Sox would trade Price if they could, but they would never give back the championship he won for them in 2018.

The Yankees view Cole in that class, and why not? For all the glory the Yankees have experienced, their single-season strikeout record is just 248, by Ron Guidry in 1978. Cole blew past 250 by the end of August last summer, on his way to 326, the most by an A.L. pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1977.

Two of the Yankees’ top four starters, Tanaka and James Paxton, are unsigned past 2020, so Cole gives the staff the long-term anchor it lacked. In the short term, he leads a rotation that suddenly looks very imposing, with Luis Severino, Tanaka, Paxton and — if he is not traded — J.A. Happ.

The Yankees have won at least 100 games in consecutive seasons without a pennant to show for it. They needed a finishing piece, and to paraphrase the old soda slogan: Cole is it.

“We all understand and all certainly feel like we have a special group, a special team, that’s hopefully in the middle of a chance to do some great things,” Manager Aaron Boone said earlier on Wednesday. “Obviously anytime you’re talking about a player the caliber of Gerrit Cole — and knowing what he can potentially mean to our club — it’s no surprise that we are as invested as we are in pursuing him.”

Boone called Cole “a game-changing type talent,” and the Yankees badly want to change their routine. They just finished their first calendar decade since the 1910s without appearing in the World Series. They are weary of regular October knockouts — three by Houston and one by Boston since 2015 — and keenly aware that their business model depends on star attractions.

That was always George Steinbrenner’s most astute strategy, and his son Hal understands it. The Yankees are loaded now with players of spellbinding possibility. How far will Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton hit it? Will Aroldis Chapman throw his 100 mile-an-hour fastball or his wipeout slider? How many strikeouts will Cole get tonight?