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SAN DIEGO — MLB’s annual meat market rolls into the Hyatt Manchester near the water separating Coronado and the downtown of Southern California’s premier city on Sunday night.
In the days before text messages became the favorite way for team officials to communicate from their hotel suites, the lobbies and bars were filled with executives attempting to cull information about what other teams were looking for at the Winter Meetings. Like the late nights when general managers and scouts would close the hotel bar, then have to cancel the trades they made while over-served the next morning, those days are gone.
You want to see team officials? Try the coffee shop off the hotel lobby at 7:30 in the morning or the workout room earlier.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman might not be seen loitering in the lobby, but his team will be the talk of the meetings. The Yankees are in position to further lay the groundwork to sign Gerrit Cole, the best cut of meat in the free-agent market, or shock the baseball universe by walking out Thursday with the right-handed stud’s signature on the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher.
Represented by Scott Boras, who has the fortitude to wait late in the process while searching for the best deal, Cole is a fit for just three teams but will dominate the conversation. He is 29, healthy and coming off a two-year run with the Astros in which he went 35-10 and posted a 2.68 ERA in 65 starts.
According to several outlets Cole could begin receiving offers this coming week but that doesn’t mean he signs the most lucrative contract for a pitcher.
The Yankees, Dodgers and Angels have been linked to Cole the longest. It’s possible the lowest offer will be for more than David Price’s $217 million contract he signed with the Red Sox before the 2016 season.
This is the Yankees’ third stab at getting Cole. They took him in the first round of the 2008 draft and watched him dance to UCLA, where he developed into the first pick in the 2011 draft by the Pirates. Six years later, the Yankees and Pirates talked about sending Cole to The Bronx but believed the Astros’ package superior to the Yankees.
Now, the dance is in the third (final?) phase.
Expected to land a contract north of $250 million, Cole would turn a solid Yankees’ rotation into an elite one — a healthy Luis Severino teamed with James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka behind Cole would be experienced and deep.
Hal Steinbrenner is aware of the ramifications of going past the third and final payroll tax of $248 million but also understands what a stud starter means.
“Let me just say, all options are open as far as I am concerned,’’ Steinbrenner said recently. “Anything that rolls across my desk I am going to be looking at real seriously. We are going to be active in the free-agent market.’’
After meeting with Cole in Orange County on Tuesday, the Yankees did the same with Stephen Strasburg the following day. Should Cole break the Yankees’ hearts for the second (and final?) time, Strasburg doesn’t appear to be an option because he is expected to re-up with the Nationals — whom he pitched to this past season’s World Series title and was named the MVP.
Though Cole will dominate the chatter, the Yankees have their eyes on other areas as well. Shortstop Didi Gregorius, reliever Dellin Betances and backup catcher Austin Romine are free agents. Brett Gardner is expected to return, but a deal hasn’t been reached to keep the longest-tenured Yankee in The Bronx.
All of that is the appetizer. Cole and the Yankees will be the main event.