It’s important to note that Cole is represented by Scott Boras, so he’s unlikely to give the Astros much of a discount. While the free agent market has been notoriously slow and fruitless the past two offseasons, the best players still get paid.
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado both got $300 million or more last winter, and Patrick Corbin got a big deal from Washington as well. It’s true that Boras client Dallas Keuchel had to settle for a one-year deal in June, but Cole is a bona fide ace and one of the five best pitchers in the game. Someone is going to give him a blank check.
I would be surprised if the Yankees aren’t heavily involved. They have myriad needs in their rotation and are losing CC Sabathia to retirement. They may not spend quite like they used to, but they have deep pockets and a clear need.
I would also expect the division rival Angels to be in the mix. They seem to never have enough pitching and might be getting desperate to win while Mike Trout is in his prime. They need an ace and may be prepared to throw money at Cole.
A few other teams may also enter the fray. The White Sox have money to burn, as they made a run at Machado last year. The Dodgers always have money, so I wouldn’t count them out. Maybe the Phillies jump into the mix after missing the playoffs.
Also, we’ve seen a number of contracts lately that contain opt-out provisions, giving the player the opportunity to re-enter the free agent market after two or three years. Boras did that with J.D. Martinez, and I could see Cole getting such a provision as well. The Astros probably wouldn’t mind that too much.
At any rate, the Astros are going to have to commit money the likes of which they’ve never committed before. It may be worth it, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.