Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow faced reporters Friday morning, and one of the first questions Hinch heard was, "Why no Cole?"
Hinch explained his reasoning Wednesday night after the World Series, saying, "I wasn't going to pitch him unless we were going to win the World Series and have a lead. He was going to help us win. He was available, and I felt it was a game that he was going to come in had we tied it or taken the lead."
That same night when Cole was asked about not coming in, he said, "We just went over the game plan and he laid out the most advantageous times to use me. And we didn't get to that position."
The Astros fell to the Washington Nationals 6-2, giving the Nationals their first World Series title.
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Hinch echoed his same comments Friday during the press conference, reiterating that Cole wasn't used because it didn't fit their plan.
"I don't know what Gerrit Cole would have brought in Game 7. Maybe he would have had his moment and been exceptional or maybe he would have given up runs and it would have overextended him," Hinch said. "I'm not going to second guess the process we had in place. We had a really good plan. I just know what ifs happen whenever things don't go your way."
Hinch and Luhnow were also asked about whether Cole will return to the Astros. Cole is now a free agent.
Cole appeared to suggest that his time in Houston has come to an end, saying earlier this week that he hadn't thought much about his future, but thanked the city and its fans for welcoming him.
"Before I became an Astro I didn't know much about Houston, but after just two years you have made it feel like home," he wrote in an open letter. "Playing in front (of) you is really something special and has been such an honor. The incredible support and passionate roars inspire our team to play at (the) highest level we possibly can."
"I think he benefited from his time here, and we certainly benefited from his time here. As far as trades go, I would do it all over again," Luhnow said Friday.
Luhnow said he couldn't talk about any free agents, but continued, "We clearly want the best possible team, and we're going to be looking at all free agents including our own and try to put together a team next year that can take us as deep, if not deeper, than we went this year."
The Astros are paying Cole $13.5 million, a bargain in the final year of his contract in Houston.
Now that we're in the offseason, Cole is expected to attract suitors who will most definitely offer more than $13.5 million per year.
A day before the Astros began postseason play, owner Jim Crane was asked about Cole's impending free agency and whether the team can keep him.
"We haven't gotten there yet," Crane said on the timing of negotiations. "We'll see where the year ends up. I mean, it's too early to say right now."
At issue is the Astros' bloated payroll and their flirtation with the MLB's Competitive Balance Tax. According to MLB, "clubs that exceed the threshold by $20 million to $40 million are also subject to a 12 percent surtax. Meanwhile, those who exceed it by more than $40 million are taxed at a 42.5 percent rate the first time and a 45 percent rate if they exceed it by more than $40 million again the following year(s)."
In 2019, the salary threshold for teams is $206 million. Next year, it's expected to go up slightly by $2 million.
ANY REGRETS: #Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said he didn’t use Gerrit Cole in game 7 because it didn’t fit their plan. After losing the series, I asked the manager if he regretted that decision, or any others during the World Series. #TakeItBack https://t.co/CIFnsXIxjK pic.twitter.com/kSirMzzMbL— Nick Natario (@NickABC13) November 1, 2019
Cole, who is in the money-making prime of his career, could command a yearly salary surpassing Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's paychecks. Greinke remains in Houston for $35 million. Verlander is due $33 million next year.
If Cole is inclined to seek the payday that this Cy Young Award-caliber year has made for him, the Astros may more than likely be unable to keep him while staying under the luxury tax threshold.
The Astros have expressed wanting to stay under the tax limit.
Free agency starts Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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