Just over a month ago, Astros owner Jim Crane expressed uncertainty as to whether the team would try to re-sign right-hander Gerrit Cole – now the undisputed best pitcher available in free agency. But Crane, who just watched his Astros drop a hard-fought seven-game World Series against the Nationals, has publicly changed his tune. Crane told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com and other reporters Monday that the Astros will at least make an effort to keep the coveted Cole in Houston.
“We’re going to take a run at it,” Crane said. “We don’t know if we can get to where they want to get. [Agent Scott] Boras is tough to deal with.”
The famed Boras is sure to drive an especially hard bargain in negotiations for Cole. After all, the 29-year-old flamethrower is coming off a marvelous season that could see him earn Cy Young honors for the first time. Even if Cole – who’s a finalist for the AL award with two starters he knows well in the Astros’ Justin Verlander and the Rays’ Charlie Morton – doesn’t wind up winning, a record payday should soon be in the offing. The seven-year, $217MM contract David Price signed with the Red Sox entering 2016 still stands as the largest deal a pitcher has ever signed, though Cole has a legitimate chance to obliterate (not just surpass) that guarantee prior to next season.
MLBTR forecasts an eight-year, $256MM pact for Cole, and that type of money could make a return to Houston especially unlikely if the team’s bent on avoiding the luxury tax. Crane has already said the Astros would “prefer not to” spend beyond the $208MM tax threshold in 2020. However, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained last month, limboing under the line looks as if it will be a challenge even without Cole in the mix. Indeed, factoring in the arbitration projections of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and FanGraphs estimates the Astros already have upward of $239MM in luxury-tax calculations for next year. There’s room to trim some of that down – including by, say, non-tendering Aaron Sanchez (who’s projected to earn a $5.6MM salary) – but seemingly not enough to put the Astros in a position to re-up Cole without blowing the $208MM mark out of the water.
Of course, there’s an argument the Astros – if they actually do want to keep Cole – should throw tax concerns aside. As Adams previously pointed out, even if the Astros were to outspend the $208MM figure by $40MM next season, they’d “only” pay in the range of $10.4MM in penalties. That amount doesn’t look as if it should stop a team from working to re-sign one of the premier pitchers in baseball and someone who could soon rake in an overall guarantee worth approximately 25 times that sum.