SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have used Buster Posey as a recruiter in recent years, but if they go after the best pitcher on the market this offseason, they'd be better off turning to another longtime member of the team's core.
As you have surely heard by now, Brandon Crawford is Gerrit Cole's brother-in-law, a connection that is enough to have many fans dreaming of bringing Cole, a runner-up in the Cy Young balloting this year, back to California. But there's another Cole connection that's more meaningful this time of year. The right-hander is represented by Scott Boras -- he wore a Boras cap after Game 7 of the World Series -- and thus is expected to walk into spring training next season as the owner of the largest contract ever given out to a pitcher.
As a Boras client, Cole likely will not sign until early in 2020. The Giants went through this a year ago when they chased Bryce Harper and met repeatedly with Boras, and at some point this offseason you can bet that they'll kick the tires on Boras' many top-tier options.
Cole is as good as it gets, but would he make sense for the Giants? Let's run down the pros and cons ...
Cole might be better positioned than any pitcher who has ever hit free agency. Boras is famous for coming up with binders that hype his free agents, and he could literally hand an owner a 700-page book about Cole and be confident that no holes could be poked in his argument.
Cole hits free agency as a 29-year-old who has pitched 200 innings in four of his past five seasons and has no injury concerns -- other than being a pitcher, of course. His fastball has averaged 97 mph in all but two months of the past two seasons, and it was a robust 96 during those two stretches. He holds that velocity well beyond the 100-pitch mark in starts and puts hitters away with a devastating slider.
Cole's walk year was one for the ages. He posted a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP and 0.89 WHIP, and led the league with an astounding 326 strikeouts and an ERA+ of 185. Want a postseason performer? He has a 2.60 ERA in 10 playoff starts, including a 1.72 ERA in the 2019 run to Game 7. Cole struck out 47 batters in 36 2/3 innings last month.
Cole's career took off when he was traded from the Pirates to the Astros, and he put up those video game numbers while pitching in a park that is often punishing for starters. Imagine what he could do spending half his time at forgiving Oracle Park, which happens to be in his home state.
Cole, who grew up in Orange County and went to UCLA (where he met Amy Crawford), reportedly wants to return to California. That has made the Angels the heavy industry favorite to lock him up, with Dodgers fans also clamoring for their front office to make the leap. A deal with the Giants would bring him closer to home and get his wife back to the Bay Area where she grew up.
It would also fill a massive hole for the Giants. They might lose Madison Bumgarner and could use someone to take pressure off their young starters and inexperienced bullpen. Cole pitched at least seven innings in 15 of his 33 starts last season. The 2019 Giants had a starter complete seven innings just 20 times.
The reasons for pessimism have much more to do with the Giants than Cole. Simply put, he's the right player but at the wrong time.
Cole is expected to shatter the previous record for a pitcher contract (David Price's $217 million) and should have the highest average annual value, too, topping Zack Greinke's $34 million per year. This is the time of the offseason when the numbers thrown out there sound silly, but the estimates for Cole's contract generally come down somewhere around $280 million. Some in the game believe he will push for an eight-year deal. Some believe the contract will total more than $300 million.
The Giants offered Harper $310 million nine months ago and have even more wiggle room this offseason, but they were sold in part on Harper's age (26 at the time) and ability to transform their soft-hitting lineup on an everyday basis. They also felt strongly that Harper would greatly increase their ticket sales, and it's hard for any pitcher -- even someone as good as Cole -- to do that when you might start just once on most homestands. Farhan Zaidi has a limited history as the top decision-maker, but he kept contracts for starters to the $50 million range in Los Angeles and spent less than $10 million last offseason on Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz.
The contract wouldn't make sense for an organization that is just starting to dig out of CBT hell and still has two years left on some massive deals, and the timetable doesn't match up either. Realistically, the earliest the Giants should truly contend is 2021. Cole is a win-now piece who could put a team like the Yankees or Dodgers over the top, but he would be on the wrong side of 30 when most of the next Giants core is in place.
Zaidi is opportunistic. He got into the Harper chase when he realized the rest of the market was holding back, and he pushed the Giants relatively close to the finish line. You can expect, then, that at some point the Giants will be connected to Cole, in large part because the connection is just too obvious.
This is still a rebuild, though, and an organization that has too many needs to commit $35 million per year to one pitcher. It's fair for Giants fans to dream about adding Cole, but the more realistic path is to simply hope he doesn't end up back in the National League.