When reports came out Wednesday morning that a trade involving Gerrit Cole moving from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Houston Astros was “imminent,” the questions began as to what big-name prospects Houston was going to give up to procure his services. Surely the Astros couldn’t get Forrest Whitley and Kyle Tucker, but would one of them be involved? If not, which of the other big names in the system were going to Pittsburgh? Certainly there had to be at least a somewhat hefty haul for Cole; a player who struck out 196 batters in 2017 and was fourth in Cy Young voting in 2015.
Four days later, the thought process changed from “who will they get?” to “who?”
In return for Cole, the Astros gave up RHP Joe Musgrove, 3B Colin Moran, RHP Michael Feliz and OF prospect Jason Martin. None of these names are household -- and for good reason -- but each has a chance to help Pittsburgh in what looks to be a rebuilding situation for the Pirates in the tough NL Central. The question is just how much.
Let’s start with what Cole gives Houston, because that’s the easiest to answer. There’s no denying that the former first-overall pick still has quality stuff, as seen in those strikeout totals. There’s also no doubt that stuff isn’t quite what it used to be, and his command has taken a step backward over the last couple of seasons as well.
The biggest question going forward is just how homer-prone Cole will be making half his starts in Houston. In 2017, Cole gave up 31 homers in his 203 innings. From 2013-2016, he gave up 36 homers. Total. Minute Maid Park can be a brutal park to pitch in, but it’s still reasonable to expect that his homer totals will go down. He’ll also be playing for a better team with a better defense, so his ERA could drop, and the wins should definitely pick up. Cole should be a solid -- if not spectacular -- pitcher in 2018.
For the Pirates, this all will depend on how they deploy the players they acquired. Musgrove has shown flashes of brilliance, but was much better in relief than as a starter in 2017. He still hasn’t developed the third pitch that you’d want from a pitcher going two-to-three times through a lineup, and his control is ahead of his command. He should get a chance to pitch in Pittsburgh’s rotation, but be prepared for mixed results if he does.
Feliz, on the other hand, may be better suited for starting long-term. He’ll get his fastball up to 97 mph in short spurts, but it’s a plus pitch when he’s starting, and the slider is an above-average pitch. He also has a more durable frame and has made progress with his command. He’s a potential high-leverage reliever if the Pirates go that route, but it couldn’t hurt to see if he can start at the next level.
Moran is one of the more divisive prospects in the “real world,” and as such, he’s a bit divisive in terms of fantasy production as well. The approach has gone backwards since he was at the University of North Carolina, but he’s added more power, which gives him a chance for an average and plus power tool. He’s also just good enough at third to be considered adequate, which is important, because a move across the diamond would all but kill his value. It probably won’t happen until the middle of the year, but he has a chance to be the everyday third baseman in Pittsburgh before the end of 2018.
The prospect who is a bit of a mystery here is Martin; a 22-year-old eighth-round pick back in 2013. He’s coming off a season where he posted an .819 OPS with 18 homers and 16 stolen bases at High-A and Double-A, and there are some scouts who believe he could be the best player the Pirates got in this deal. He’s athletic and developing left-handed power, and he should be fine in either corner-outfield position. He’s also a player who went undrafted in the Rule 5 draft, so obviously there are some concerns with his long-term future. It’s a nice lottery ticket to have is probably the best way to put it.
At the end of the day, the Pirates were able to get some quantity for Cole, and three of the four players received should help them in 2018. The issue is just how much quality is here, especially when you consider just how much upside there still is in Cole’s arm. Even if he busts, Houston dealt from areas of need, and the ceiling here is another power arm that can help them try to win back-to-back championships.
Quick Hits:: Mets and 1B Adrian Gonzalez have agreed to a deal, pending a physical. The 35-year-old first baseman is coming off a season where he posted a .287 on-base percentage and three homers in 71 games for the Dodgers in 2017 ... The Padres signed LHP Brad Hand to a three-year, $19.75 million extension. It includes a $10 million for 2021 with a $1 million buyout ... Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Twins have agreed to a two-year, $17 million contract with RHP Addison Reed. He'll likely compete with recently signed RHP Fernando Rodney for the closer spot in Minnesota ... Cardinals' general manager John Mozeliak said Saturday that barring any other moves, Luke Gregerson would open the season as the team's closer ... Cubs' President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said Saturday that he's confident in Brandon Morrow as the team's closer for the 2018 season. Epstein also said the club hasn't closed the doors on resigning RHP Jake Arrieta ... Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes (elbow) is expected to begin throwing live bullpen sessions in about a week ... Marlins signed 1B/OF Scott Van Slyke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.