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Trade Analysis: Gerrit Cole to Houston

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Yesterday evening, the Pirates finally struck a long-awaited agreement to send homegrown starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros. The former number-one selection in the 2011 draft has been a stalwart in the Pirates rotation since 2013.

The 27 year old carries two more seasons of team control for the Astros. He is projected to make $7.5MM this season. While Cole is undoubtedly a very solid arm, he is not the top of the rotation arm, or the ace, that he was expected to be when he was selected out of UCLA.

Examining Cole

His 2017 season, he eclipsed the 200 inning mark for just the second time in his 5 MLB seasons. His other 200 inning season came in 2015, his best season by a wide margin, when he was selected to his lone All-Star appearance, and garnered his only Cy-Young votes (4th place).

Aside from 2017 and 2015, Cole has never surpassed 138 innings in his other 3 professional seasons. He made just 19, 22, and 21 starts respectively. His career 8.6 H/9 does not scream dominant. However, other peripherals such as a 3.29 FIP, 2.3 BB/9, and 3.62 SO/W all work in his favor.

He has made 3 career trips to the disabled list with various arm injuries, twice dealing with elbow inflammation. Despite his ailments, Cole still managed to average 96 MPH on his fastball, his highest since his rookie year in 2013. So while he might not be the full-fledged ace he was expected to be, Houston will get a high quality arm to slot directly behind Kuechel and Verlander, followed by Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers.

Breaking Down the Return

Pittsburgh received 4 players from Houston to complete the trade. The two centerpieces in the return are Major League ready starting pitcher Joe Musgrove, and third baseman Colin Moran. Being traded isn’t unfamiliar to these guys, as Moran has been dealt from Miami to Houston, and Musgrove was dealt to Houston from Toronto.

Both carry first-round pedigrees, Musgrove selected in 2011 (#46), and Moran in 2013 (#6). Musgrove has plenty of big league experience, throwing 171 innings over the past two season for the Astros. He worked as a swingman in 2017, due to the plethora of arms Houston had at its disposal.

While he wasn’t overly impressive with a 4.77 ERA, and 1.5HR/9 rate, his FIP of 4.38 shows a slightly better outlook, as well as his impressive 3.5SO/W ratio. Moving from Minute Maid to PNC Park should help with his home run tendency. While somehow Minute Maid graded out to being one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league, via ESPN, PNC was more pitcher-friendly when it comes to balls leaving the park.

Musgrove’s fastball velocity also increased from 91.7MPH in 2016 to 92.9MPH in 2017, although part of that could be attributed to appearing in 23 games out of the bullpen, allowing him to throw harder in shorter spurts.

Moran has had a cup of coffee over the past two seasons in the bigs. He is known more for being a pure contact hitter, with good on-base skills, without much power. However, last season he may have come into a newfound power surge, as he drilled 18 home runs in triple-A in just 312 at-bats.

He should get every chance to start at the hot corner for Pittsburgh come Opening Day. The final two pieces, which may not have the flash or hype as the others in the deal, carry some potential for the Pirates as well.

Michael Feliz, a 24-year-old power bullpen arm, could flourish in his new home. His average fastball clocks in at just over 96MPH, and he pairs that with a wipeout slider that helped him rack up an astonishing 13 K/9 rate in 113 innings from 2016-2017. He will step in and give Pittsburgh another high-powered arm to pair with lefty Felipe Rivero in the back end of the ‘pen.

Lastly, 22-year-old minor leaguer Jason Martin gives Pittsburgh a potential regular in the outfield in the future.  He brings some speed and power, with a 24 HR/20 steal season in 2016, and followed it up with an 18/16 season, spent mostly in Double-A. He was ranked in the top-20 prospects for minor league ball, coming in at #13, in a well-regarded system.

Final Thoughts

While Neal Huntington and owner Bob Nutting are being somewhat ridiculed for their lack of high-end pieces in the return, I believe this trade is very, very solid for both squads. Houston managed to add a controllable asset in Gerrit Cole, who doesn’t cost what any free agent starter on the market would ask for. Cole immediately adds a strong presence to the middle of the rotation, and allows them to build on their run of dominance.

They managed to do this without sacrificing elite, young talent, keeping Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker, and J.B. Bukauskas. I’m not sure if you can doubt a Jeff Lunhow transaction, as he always seems to come out on top in the end, time and time again. When I look at the overall return the Pirates got for Cole, at first glance, it may seem underwhelming.

But, as I dissected earlier, Cole is not an ace. He has shown he is very capable of being an upper-echelon, mid-rotation arm. The main reason I believe this return is good for Pittsburgh is, I strongly believe that Joe Musgrove can be what Cole was for the Pirates.

That statement may be a reach, and might need some luck with it, but I would say it is very feasible for it to turn out that way. If anyone can make it happen, it is pitching coach Ray Searage, as he has shown with guys like Juan Nicasio, Ivan Nova, Felipe Rivero, J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, and many more.

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That brings me to Michael Feliz, who under Searage’s tutelage, should be able to form one of the nastiest back end’s in baseball with Felipe Rivero, both who throw in the upper 90’s with regularity.

Moran should become the everyday man at the hot corner, hopefully providing some power, and Martin is a wild card in the deal, who may eventually tip this trade one way or the other. All in all, Pittsburgh managed to acquire 3 Major League ready pieces that will step in and contribute right away.

Those 3 players come with extensive team control, as all are in pre-arbitration. None will see the free agent market until the 2020’s (Feliz in 2022, Musgrove in 2023, and Moran in 2024). Pittsburgh also manages to save nearly $7MM this season, and potentially over $10MM next season by trading Cole, which is always a big deal to the fiscally frugal Pirates.

Houston Astros Grade: A-
Pittsburgh Pirates Grade: B+

Written By

Maryland Native and McDaniel College alum. Former Division 3 baseball player. Current Vice President of his family-owned business in the waste industry.



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