Over the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates did what many saw coming. Actually, a great many people anticipated the inevitable small market fire sale coming a year or two earlier.
Supposedly, the Washington Nationals offered then-top prospect Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning —the package they would eventually send to the White Sox for Adam Eaton in late 2016— for Gerrit Cole.
Cole, the first overall pick of the 2011 draft, was attached for what seemed like ever to the New York Yankees, the first team to draft him, 28th overall in 2008.
The Yankees were also in the mix of many teams looking at the Pirates’ other franchise player, Andrew McCutchen.
As it turned out, New York wouldn’t get either, instead dealing for Sonny Gray and Giancarlo Stanton.
Cole ended up with the world champion Houston Astros and McCutchen to the not-too-distant 2014 world champion San Francisco Giants.
Both trades were rightfully thought of as eventualities for the Pirates, who would not be a player for McCutchen’s 2019 free agency or Cole’s in 2020.
Two years of control made Cole, a Cy Young and MVP candidate and All-Star in 2015, a hot commodity. However, a career-worst (but still well above big league average) 2017 put a dent in his trade value.
A four-time All-Star and 2013 MVP with top five finishes in 2014 and 2015, McCutchen was still going to be a potential rental and despite steady production, had seen his power-steal combo meal production as well as his gold glove start to dissipate when he hit the other side of 30.
What the Pirates got back for the two former faces of the organization in a matter of January days wasn’t just underwhelming, but hopefully won’t set the franchise back and painfully delay a proper rebuild.
Let’s check in on how the return packages for Cole and McCutchen are doing.
1/13/18: Pirates trade Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for Joe Musgrove, prospects Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin
The Astros have emptied their farm system in recent seasons to build their World Series winning roster, but still had elite prospects in store with Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Francis Martes and Yordan Alvarez when discussions for Gerrit Cole commenced.
Shockingly, it took none of them to make the trade.
I ache with wonder of what other teams were(n’t) offering for the not-so-recently removed ace. Especially when word inevitably spread among front offices that the reigning champs were on the verge of acquiring him.
What Houston did send was still better than many teams could do, even if it didn’t touch the top of Jeff Luhnow’s Academy Award-winning farm system.
Joe Musgrove, originally acquired in the 10-player J.A. Happ extravaganza with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012, emerged from that deal as the best Astros get. (Most thought it would be catcher Carlos Perez.)
A control artist, Musgrove’s career minor league WHIP is just over one with just 1.1 walks per nine innings. The big leagues have been tougher on him, as expected from a young pitcher needing to paint corners, and the 25-year old has bounced between the big leagues and the Pirates system so far in 2018.
His minor league numbers, specifically in Triple-A Indy, are not good. His stats with the big league club, however, are better. He hasn’t been sharp, and that’s where he’ll make his money, but he’s been serviceable in nine starts. He’ll be 26 in December.
Colin Moran, the sixth overall pick in 2013 by the Miami Marlins, was traded a mere season later to the Space City along with Jake Marisnick, Francis Martes and a draft pick (Daz Cameron) for basically Jarred Cosart.
It sure looked like another genius move from Luhnow. It became one, but not because of the former top ten draft pick. Moran projected as the team’s future third baseman, but obviously that honor has gone swimmingly to Alex Bregman.
Moran stalled at Triple-A with the Stros and was an obvious trade candidate, especially with no third base option in sight for Pittsburgh.
This season, he’s been the most frequently used option at the corner for the Pirates. 72 out of 97 starts is no full-time starter, but Moran has managed a .264 and eight home runs.
He’s been error prone at third with eight and could eventually be used at multiple positions like first base or corner outfield. He’ll be 26 in October.
Michael Feliz had some serious steam going into the 2016 season, cracking some top 50 lists. He made his MLB debut in 2015 and pitched 65 innings out of A.J. Hinch’s bullpen in 2016 to moderate results.
In 2017, he was again limited to the pen with 48 innings. He struck out over 13 batters per nine innings in both ‘16 and ‘17 and looked like he might become a valuable late-inning pitcher instead of a member of the rotation.
He hasn’t started regularly since 2015 and has been on and off the disabled list in 2018 for the Buccos. He continues to intrigue with strikeout numbers but has shown little progression elsewhere. He just turned 25.
Jason Martin, the fourth and final piece of the Pirates get, was an eighth round selection by Houston in 2013 out of the California prep ranks.
Capable of playing all three outfield positions, Martin’s an excellent center fielder and as a 20-year old in High-A during the 2016 season, he hit 23 home runs with 20 stolen bases.
He duplicated his success in 2017 and has been the best player post-trade on the Pirates end. Promoted to Triple-A at the end of June, he continues to offer all of the glove, some power and good speed. It’s not the best ceiling, but could be a very comfortable floor. He’ll be 23 in September.
Meanwhile, in Houston, Gerrit Cole made his first all-star team since 2015 and has allowed a league-low 5.7 hits per nine innings while striking out 177 betters in 128.1 innings. His velocity has spiked back to his early pro year rate and he’s on pace to laughably shatter his career-best 202 strikeouts from 2015.
Former UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer doesn’t think his resurgence is completely kosher. Nevertheless, it’s happening at a great bargain.
Cole’s 2.52 ERA is also the best mark of his career, besting another 2015 number (2.60). He’ll be 28 in September.
1/15/18: Pirates trade Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for prospects Kyle Crick, Bryan Reynolds and international bonus pool money
If the Cole package seemed light, the McCutchen package was practically invisible. With respect to the two prospects going east to the Steel City (and respect to money), both Crick and Reynolds were ranked marginally in a weak Giants system.
A former top prospect and a 2011 supplemental first-rounder two picks after Joe Musgrove, Crick is without control where Musgrove excels with it.
A move to the bullpen in 2017 worked beautifully for Crick and he made his long-awaited MLB debut that June.
Still walking a ton of batters, he was nevertheless able to limit damage in 14 bullpen appearances. This season, he’s toggled between Triple-A and the majors, mostly staying with the big league club.
He’s still walking four batters per nine innings but is allowing under seven hits in the same frame. A sub-2.00 ERA and his first two career saves add to an impressive Pirates debut. He’ll be 26 in November.
Reynolds, a second-rounder in 2016 out of the Vanderbilt baseball factory, hit over .300 with the Giants since turning pro between Short-A, Low-A and High-A. The Pirates promoted the switch-hitting outfielder to Double-A Altoona to start the year and he’s been good.
He sports a .259 batting average this season, but it’s his first taste of Double-A and he has a .351 OBP. After hitting 10 home runs last season, he only has one this year and is a sure bet to remain at Double-A for the rest of the season, which is totally fine. He’ll be 24 next January.
“Cutch” has given up his former center field powers and moved to right field in spacious AT&T Park with the G-Men. The vast playing field in San Fran has resulted in just nine home runs, on pace for his lowest since 2010. But he is slashing .261/.352/.412, which is good for the Giants considering what they paid. (Their real minor league investment of the off-season was trading Christian Arroyo for Evan Longoria.)
Obviously no longer one of the league’s finest players, there’s still a lot of value to McCutchen’s name and it will be interesting where he suits up next season. He’ll be 32 in October.