"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.." - Jurassic Park
In the world of sports (and apparently dinosaur genetics), fans want what they want and they want it when they want it. Sports franchises, however, have to balance what fans want against what is best for the team both short and long term. For this impending offseason, there is no bigger short or long-term question mark than what the Astros should do about free agent pitcher Gerrit Cole.
For fans, it's a no brainer. You do everything you can to re-sign the guy who was absolutely lights out for most of the season and the postseason. You bring him back for another year paired with Justin Verlander (the best one-two pitching punch in the AL) and a full season with Zack Greinke as the number three.
He's worth whatever money it costs, they will say. If A.J. Hinch would have put Cole in game seven instead of Will Harris, we would have won another World Series, they will tell you.
But, is that really true? Any of it?
Chances are had Cole come in and thrown a slider down and away like Harris, we'd all be wondering why Hinch didn't turn to the ever-reliable Harris instead of a tired Cole after he gave up an unbelievable home run to Howie Kendrick. Still, even if Cole gets Kendrick out and the Astros rally to win, does it change anything?
Herein lies the problem with running a team. Owner Jim Crane said on Monday that the Astros would "take a run" at Cole. Taking a run at perhaps the most coveted free agent pitcher in baseball will more than throwing dollars at him. It will take the kind of commitment that might simply be too much for the Astros.
Look, no one denies Cole's talent or that he is currently at the peak of his career. But, we are talking about projections of nearly a quarter billion (with a 'b') dollars committed to a soon-to-be-30-year-old power pitcher. That could mean paying a 35-year-old Cole $40 million plus for several seasons (Cole is said to be looking for six or seven years). The Astros maxed out their payroll this year at over $150 million, ranking eighth in the majors. Not only would Cole push that substantially higher, but would undoubtedly shove them into luxury tax territory.
Sure, no one should feel sorry for major league owners. We aren't spending our own money here. However, when you consider the ripple effect that would have on the rest of the payroll, you might not like what you see, especially given the fact that good teams don't overpay their own players in their prime. They pay them as they are reaching it, particularly when it comes to pitching.
Few teams have show the propensity to turn around or extend pitching careers like the Astros. There is no reason to think they can't find another Charlie Morton or Wade Miley (hopefully minus the falling off a cliff thing for Miley). And they will still have money to spend on a bigger name arm that won't absolutely obliterate the bank.
Gerrit Cole is an amazing talent, to be sure. But if the Astros hamstring themselves by handcuffing the payroll to a single pitcher for six or seven seasons, it would go against everything Jeff Luhnow believes, a guy who has built a team from a heap of trash and turned it into one of the best teams in baseball. This is not the time to stop trusting the process, even if it means losing someone as good as Cole.