On Saturday afternoon, the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates completed a long awaited trade that would send right handed pitcher Gerrit Cole to Houston. In return, Pittsburgh received pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, third baseman Colin Moran, and outfield prospect Jason Martin. Pirates’ writer Michael Ferro and prospect writer Connor Kurcon break down this trade from both sides of the deal.
A lot of people feel like the last two years for Gerrit Cole have been an anomaly and that the Astros pulled one over on the Pirates with an underwhelming package. To be honest, the Pirates weren’t going to get as much value for Cole as rumors stated. This is due to one thing: the last two years.
If the last two seasons weren’t a fluke with Cole’s ERA and HR per 9 innings rising, then it could be argued that the Astros took a flier on a young pitcher who’s on the decline. However, his HR per 9 from 2017 and BABIP in 2016 are major outliers from the rest of his career. It’s quite possible they were blips and he’ll go back to normal this coming season. If Cole’s 2015 campaign is more of the usual for him, then the Astros will win this trade, at least until Cole is gone. That chance of continued regression is what stopped the Pirates from getting top prospects in a deal. Cole’s value wasn’t as high as the media frenzy made it out to be. He hasn’t played like an ace since 2015 and the Astros, despite what Twitter might tell you, aren’t getting an ace. They could, but they’re playing the odds that he won’t fall apart, an odds game the Pirates are playing as well but was inevitable. The Pirates knew they weren’t going to be able to resign Cole, so they were trying to get as much value out of him as they could. Overall, this trade hinges on Cole’s performance. If Cole gets back to form, the Astros have the best rotation in the league. If he doesn’t, people aren’t going to be ragging too hard on the Pirates for this trade.
Although the return for Cole has initially been perceived as light, the Pirates are getting back some interesting players, and a wait-and-see approach may be the best course of action before judging.
24 year old Michael Feliz had a year to forget in 2017, sporting a 5.63 ERA in 48 innings out of the bullpen, though some if not all of it could be chalked up to very poor luck, as seen by his .381 BABIP and 69% LOB%. Once thought of as a top prospect for the Astros, Feliz’ fastball averaged 96 mph this season, and although he elected to ditch his changeup altogether, the Pirates could work with him a little and give Feliz another chance to start. If he can’t, he still has the potential to be a very good back end of the bullpen arm.
Joe Musgrove, 25, started 15 games for the World Series champs in 2017, and although they were relatively ugly (6.12 ERA), Musgrove was fantastic after being moved to the bullpen, making 23 appearances in the regular season and held opponents to just a .196/.244/.321 line, striking out 31 in his 31.1 IP. As expected, Musgrove’s pitches saw a bit of a velocity bump out of the bullpen, as his fastball averaged 95+ and his slider averaged 84-86, both bumps of about 2 mph. The 3 changeups he threw in September averaged over 90 mph. Musgrove was a top prospect of his own, ranking as high as #83 in all of baseball in 2016 by Baseball America. The control artist will certainly get another chance to start in Pittsburgh and has the command, movement, and arsenal to profile as a #3/4 starting pitcher.
Colin Moran, 25, had a very good year at AAA Fresno, hitting .308/.373/.543 in 338 PA before being called up by the Astros at the end of the year and managing 4 hits (including a triple and a HR) in his first 12 Major League PA. Moran then unfortunately was placed on the DL after fouling a ball off his face, which would end his season. Although there is something extremely uninspiring about a player hitting well during his second season in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), an extremely hitter-friendly league, Moran’s year may be more impressive than it seems. His ISO jumped from .111 in 450+ PCL at-bats in 2016 to .235 in 300+ AB in ‘17, a direct result of Moran’s fly ball rate increasing from below 25% to above 35%. His strikeout rate also dropped from 23.7% to 16.3%. Moran also did most of his damage at home in a Fresno park that, in a league full of launching pads, is one of the more hitter-neutral parks. These drastic improvements imply more than simple benefit of repeating the league; with more fly balls, more power, and fewer strikeouts to boot, they imply a change of approach. As the #6 overall pick in 2013, there is definitely some level of pedigree with Moran, and he’s a player that could have sneaky upside as a Major Leaguer. However, Moran needs that change in approach to carry to the bigs to be impactful, as his defense at 3B is below average. Moran should fight for the starting job in 2018.
The 4th piece of the deal was outfield prospect Jason Martin. Drafted in the 8th round in 2013, Martin had a good year in 2017 between A and AA, hitting .278/.332/.487 between them. Martin has decent speed and power which has continued to develop, but the rest of the profile remains fringe average. He can play CF, thanks to his average to above average speed, but the arm plays down in center. The hit tool needs work still, as his K/BB was 82/19 in 300 Double-A at-bats. Some are higher on Martin than others, and some even see him as a future regular, but the path to playing time is muddled.
The Cole saga is finally over. From being “definitely” traded to the Yankees to being “traded” Astros then not traded to finally being traded to the Astros Saturday, this last few weeks have been a wild ride. Maybe this will be the move that’ll finally light the stove, because this winter has been one of the coldest in a long time.
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated