Finally. In what seemed an entire offseason of speculation and false rumors, the Pittsburgh Pirates have moved Gerrit Cole. The Houston Astros solidified one of the best rotations in the American League, with a scary Big Four.
It was a bit of a bizarre trade as it seemed the Pirates settled for quantity over quality. Despite coming off a down season, Cole is just 27 years old, has shown quality stuff and is relatively cheap for at least two more years before becoming a free agent in 2020. It just doesn’t seem like a rebuild move for the Pirates. They got some very nice pieces, but most are big-league ready — if not big leaguers already — and none are elite young talents with superstar potential.
Joe Musgrove is no longer a prospect by any means, and his first two seasons in the bigs have been average at best. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he does have good command, allowing just 2.31 walks per nine over his first 171.1 innings. He will likely be a starter for the Pirates after splitting time in the rotation and ‘pen last year.
Michael Feliz is even less of a prospect than Musgrove, having spent time in the majors for the past three seasons. The 24-year-old righty is a big presence (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) out of the bullpen, but has serious command issues. He strikes out a ton, thanks to a powerful fastball-slider combo, but that’s when he’s on. He’s walked 3.6-per-nine over the first 121 innings of his career.
Colin Moran could be the best piece in the deal. Moran broke out in his 2017 campaign in the Pacific Coast League. He slashed .308/.373/.543 with 18 home runs. John Sickels had him ranked the Astros No. 5 prospect heading into the season. Here’s what he had to say:
Age 25, first round pick by Miami Marlins in 2013 from North Carolina, then traded to Astros; stock has gone up and down but back up again following .301/.369/.532 run through Triple-A, went 4-for-11 in the majors; missed two months after being hit in the face with a foul ball; at this point I don’t think he is the star the Marlins thought they were drafting but he’s getting to his power more often now and has added defensive versatility to his resume, giving him a chance to still have a long career as a decent regular or excellent role player. ETA 2018.
Whether there’s a spot on opening day for Moran — David Freese is at third and Josh Bell at first — is a question mark, but he seems to have little to prove in Triple-A. After an uncharacteristic spike in his strikeouts in 2016, he’s increased his power by, as most have done in today’s game, adding some loft and increasing the launch angle. Overall, he controls the strike zone pretty well (striking out just 16.3 percent of the time in ‘17), and his left-handed swing is steady in making contact, so he could serve as a corner utility player until a spot opens.
Jason Martin is the only true prospect in the bunch. Martin is the 22-year-old outfielder coming off a solid season split between the California League and Double-A. John had him ranked the 13th-best prospect in the Astros system. Here’s why:
...eighth round pick in 2013; hit combined .278/.332/.487 with 35 doubles, 18 homers, 16 steals, 39 walks, 124 strikeouts in 474 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; multi-skilled athlete with plus running speed and surprising power in 5-11 frame; can play all three outfield positions although arm fits best in left; could be ideal fourth outfielder although if more power comes he could move beyond that. ETA late 2019.
Martin was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft, and remained an Astro, so clearly they weren’t hesitant to part with him. The big thing is a difference in opinion of his speed. Some see him as someone who can fill the role of a fourth outfielder, others don’t know if he can be more than organizational depth. With a marginal arm, Martin needs to be able to make plays with little room for error.
Still, he slashed .278/.332/.487 in 2017. He hit 18 home runs and 35 doubles, able to spray it to all fields. He has certainly shown signs that he can be a valuable asset, so it will be interesting to see how he develops in Triple-A this season.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad deal for the Pirates, it just seems they may have sold themselves short. They certainly got very usable pieces, all of which seem to be big-league capable. Their ceilings just fall short of what Cole could be for the Astros.