Astros owner addresses Gerrit Cole’s free agency, says going over luxury tax is ‘possibility’

Gerrit Cole will be the most sought after starting pitcher in this year’s free agency market. Cole, 29, is expected to sign one of the largest contracts ever for a pitcher. On Monday, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane told reporters, including MLB‘s Brain McTaggart, that the club will take a run at re-signing Cole this offseason. Crane also added that “it’s a possibility” that the club goes over the luxury tax threshold for the 2020 season. 

“We’re going to take a run at it,” Crane said about trying to bring back Cole. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to get to where they want to get. [Scott] Boras is tough to deal with.”

Cole originally joined the Astros in 2018 via a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons. He’s a front-runner for this year’s AL Cy Young Award after finishing with an league-best 2.50 ERA and a career-best 20 wins. Cole also led the league in strikeouts (326), ERA+ (185) and FIP (2.64). He set himself up for an enormous payday.

Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax is set at $208 million for a team’s total payroll for 2020. Any MLB team that exceeds the luxury tax threshold for the first time must pay a 20 percent tax on all overages.

Entering the 2020 season, the Astros have a few big contracts on their payroll for players like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander. As our own RJ Anderson noted early last month, there’s almost no way the Astros can re-sign Cole without going over the luxury tax.

Cole is represented by Scott Boras, which is a fact Cole reminded everyone of after the Astros World Series loss. Interestingly enough, Crane also mentioned the troubling trend of slow-paced offseasons, specifically referencing last year’s.

“I don’t think that’s good for the market. So hopefully they’ll get Gerrit out of the way early and free up the market,” Crane said.

Indeed, the 2019 free agency class saw very late signings. Top free agent superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper didn’t sign until February, and pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel went without deals for even longer, not signing until June. At the time, plenty of players spoke out against the slow market.

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