Former Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole made it abundantly clear after game seven of the World Series that he is a free agent. Cole is by far the best starting pitcher on the free agent market this season, and the Twins happen to desperately need the services of such a person. Cole won’t come cheap, but the cost is something the Twins not only could, but should pay—no matter how out of character such a move would be.
Various pundits are predicting that Cole will see an astronomical $300 million, long term contract. Whether that is 5 years at $60 million AAV or 6 years at $50 million AAV, it really doesn’t matter for this exercise. The shorter term would be more beneficial to the team, and perhaps to Cole, as he might be able to get one more deal. He is currently going into his age-30 season, and hitting the free agent market at 35 versus 36 could actually mean several million dollars more on his next contract, not that he would really need the money at point.
Therefore, I propose that the Twins should be willing to offer Cole a team-record shattering average of 60 million dollars per year, for the next five seasons. The Twins will have to be the highest bidder, perhaps by a fairly large margin to earn Cole’s services, its speculated he has a strong preference to play in southern California, where he is from, and he has absolutely no real reason to give the Twins a discount, although former teammates Marwin Gonzalez and (if they resign the pending free agent) Jason Castro are in Minnesota.
As uncharacteristic as a move of this size would be, the boy wonders running the Twins front office have made two things clear to us already. Number one, they are not bound to doing things the “Twins way” any more, if it makes sense for the team; and number two, they are willing to make a splash when the timing is right. Furthermore, Jim Pohlad has made it clear that he is willing to spend if the team makes a strong case to do so. After the season the Twins had, its clear that the window is wide open, the young position players are ready to compete, but they need some help from the pitching side. Unless everyone from Pohlad down is all talk and no action, this is the off season to make a move like this.
Including arbitration estimates, the Twins are currently on the hook for about $85 million in payroll for 2020, before they sign any free agents. They do need more than an ace, but not much. Likely needs would be a back up catcher, a couple of relievers, and another starter or two. Lets assume those needs can all be met for around $15 million, since the Twins do have internal options and other bargains can be found. That would put the total 2020 payroll, with Cole included, around $150 million dollars. That number would be up about $13 million from 2019, but no where near the top of the league. Going forward, the Twins have next to no money committed to long term deals. Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Taylor Rogers are all arbitration eligible through 2022, by which point the team will need to either move on or sign a new contract with those players. That still leaves a three year window with this young core intact. Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler are both signed through the 2024 season, so a massive Cole contract will not impact the team’s ability to keep them around. Luis Arraez will be around on team-friendly terms. Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and Brent Rooker will be leading the next wave of prospects up in, if not before 2022 anyway, which will soften the blow of the Twins potentially losing a couple guys to free agency.
Cole is, as I mentioned, 29 years old. He earned 7.4 fWAR this season, and has started multiple World Series games. His 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP, and 2.48 xFIP all agree there is nothing flukey about his stats. He’s exceeded 200 innings far more often than not in his career. He is the epitome of a staff ace in his career prime, and happens to be available at the exact time it makes sense for the Twins to pony up to buy one.