Yankees: Cole talks about working with Sanchez and Higashioka; weighs in on LeMahieu and Tanaka’s free agencies

New York Yankees’ marquee signing of last season, Gerrit Cole, hadn’t spoken with the media since their season ended against the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series. He had a roller-coaster-like year that saw him make a string of mediocre starts, but he finished strong and had a 2.84 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 2020.

He talked with YES Network reporter Meredith Marakovits on Yankees’ Hot Stove this week, and discussed several subjects in the encounter.

It was reported that Cole preferred working with Kyle Higashioka as his catcher, but he did praise Gary Sanchez too while talking about the New York Yankees’ situation behind the plate.

“We’re fortunate to have two tremendously talented catchers,” Cole said. “For someone to be able to fill in at any time and bring some of their unique attributes that elevate a team as a whole … To have a dual weapon threat, or even if one guy’s your primary guy and someone else is supplementing players like that, it makes a big difference towards the end of the season and in the most important games. So that’s a blessing to have two quality guys like that.”

Cole said he expects to work with both backstops during spring training.

Cole spoke about the Yankees’ highest-profile free agents

While talking about DJ LeMahieu, he focused more on him enjoying his free agency rather than campaigning for the Yankees to bring him back.

“True pro’s pro right. We talk about it amongst ourselves in the league, who everybody is a big fan of regardless if you’re competing against him or playing with them. DJ kind of sets the gold standard in that regard. He’s not changed much since the first time I played with him in the Fall League, I was impressed with him back then. The stoicism. The deliberate. The way he goes about his game. It’s nice to see him flourish. Obviously, I think very highly of his talent and his skill level, but also hold in high regard the human being.

“This is an exciting time for him. He’s done (free agency) once. Now he’s doing it again. And he’s looking to get a big chunk of certainty I guess for the next four, five, six years … whatever it may be for him. It’s exciting as a player to go through that, so I’m happy for him.”

Lastly, his friend Masahiro Tanaka, who spent the last seven seasons with the Yankees, is also a free agent. However, Cole said the two of them had an encounter recently, but offered no insight on whether he is leaning towards returning or signing with another team.

“I don’t have any insight (on Tanaka’s free agency),” Cole said. “We had just talked about trying to get sushi. We’re both sushi lovers and during the season it was quite difficult to get good sushi or go out. So we took the opportunity before he went back to Japan to just catch up one more time in the offseason.

“I’ve kind of stayed away from blowing him up too much early (in the offseason with calls or texts) because, let’s face it, we’re all probably focusing on the holidays now and the (free agent) market’s been moving slow. So there’s probably not a whole lot to talk business there. But I anticipate circling back around in the new year and checking in on him and seeing how he’s doing because he turned out to be a good friend.”

For the look of things, the New York Yankees’ chances of bringing both LeMahieu and Tanaka back are slim, at best.