The Tokyo Yakult Swallows have signed right-hander A.J. Cole to a one-year contract worth roughly $800.4K. Though Cole has worked almost exclusively as a reliever in recent years, the Swallows have interest in using him as a starter, as per Yahoo Japan (Japanese language link).
Cole, who turns 30 in January, signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays last winter that ended up paying him a $1MM guaranteed salary when Toronto selected him to its active roster in May. However, Cole ended up pitching just eight innings, as neck tightness and then an oblique strain resulted in a lengthy stint on the injured list.
By the time Cole’s 30-day rehab assignment period was up, the Jays opted to just outright him to Triple-A, and Cole spent the rest of September in the minors before electing free agency following the season. He’ll now head to an entirely new environment in NPB, with the intriguing prospect of reviving his fortunes as a starting pitcher.
Cole drew plenty of top-100 prospect attention during his days in the Athletics’ and Nationals’ farm systems, to the point that he was swapped back and forth between the two clubs in a pair of prominent trades. His stock dimmed after struggling in both the big leagues and at Triple-A, in large part due to an inability to limit home runs. Cole’s problems with the long ball never truly went away even after becoming a reliever in 2018, but he at least posted some decent bottom-line results and some improved strikeout numbers working out of the bullpen. After a 4.26 ERA over 38 relief innings with the Yankees in 2018, Cole posted a 3.14 ERA over 57 1/3 frames with Cleveland and Toronto in 2019-21.
Since the start of the 2017 campaign, Cole has a 4.28 ERA, 23.1% strikeout rate, 9.7% walk rate, and a 15% home run rate. As one might expect, the move to relief pitching helped add a bit of velocity to Cole’s fastball, and he has averaged 93.8mph on his heater over the last four seasons.