ASTROS AC­QUIRE GER­RIT COLE

LAT­EST PITCH­ING AD­DI­TION GIVES ASTROS ONE OF BASE­BALL’S BEST RO­TA­TIONS

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Jake Ka­plan jake.ka­plan@chron.com twit­ter.com/jakemka­plan

A few days af­ter a false alarm, Astros gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now ac­tu­ally pulled off the trade.

Ger­rit Cole is now a mem­ber of the reign­ing World Se­ries cham­pi­ons.

The Astros ac­quired Cole from the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates on Satur­day in ex­change for four play­ers, bol­ster­ing a ro­ta­tion al­ready among base­ball’s best. Cole comes to the Astros with two years of team con­trol and didn’t cost them ei­ther of their two best prospects, pitcher For­rest Whit­ley and out­fielder Kyle Tucker.

To land Cole, the Astros moved three play­ers from their 40-man ros­ter, in­clud­ing Joe Mus­grove, who was ex­pected to be in their 2018 bullpen. They also dealt third base­man Colin Mo­ran and re­liever Michael Feliz. Mi­nor league out­fielder Ja­son Martin, who went un­s­e­lected in last month’s Rule 5 Draft, was the fourth player in the Pi­rates’ re­turn.

Cole, 27, comes with an im­pres­sive pedi­gree. The Pi­rates drafted him first over­all in 2011 out of UCLA and he quickly as­cended to the top of their ro­ta­tion. In 2015, he was an All-Star and fin­ished fourth in Na­tional League Cy Young Award vot­ing. He has re­gressed in the two sea­sons since but still pos­sesses front­line po­ten­tial.

“We’re ex­cited about this move,” Luh­now said. “This move gives us a bet­ter chance over the next two years to re­peat and hope­fully get another cham­pi­onship. That’s been our goal all along, to get to the point of com­pet­i­tive­ness and win a cham­pi­onship and hope­fully win mul­ti­ple cham­pi­onships. This is the type of move that helps us come closer to that goal.”

Cole, who has a 3.50 ca­reer ERA in 7821⁄3 in­nings, fig­ures to slot into the mid­dle of a ro­ta­tion head­lined by two former Cy Young Award win­ners, Justin Ver­lan­der and Dal­las Keuchel. Lance McCullers Jr. and Char­lie Mor­ton, who could be Nos. 2 or 3 starters in most ro­ta­tions, project as the Astros’ fourth and fifth starters.

Bet­ting on a bounce back

The trade re­moved a key piece from the Astros’ bullpen in Mus­grove but also all but en­sures valu­able swing­man Brad Pea­cock will pitch in re­lief. The Astros also still have a qual­ity starter in Collin McHugh, who if the ro­ta­tion is healthy could be­come the long man in their bullpen.

The Astros are bet­ting on a bounceback from Cole, who pitched closer to league av­er­age in 2016 and 2017 af­ter an in­cred­i­ble 2015. The hard-throw­ing righthander had a 4.26 ERA last sea­son but logged 203 in­nings in 33 starts. A ca­reer-high 31 home runs al­lowed was a prom­i­nent rea­son for his re­gres­sion.

“We don’t fo­cus too much on short-term per­for­mance,” Luh­now said. “I think Ger­rit Cole has a long track record of elite per­for­mance in col­lege and also in the ma­jor leagues. He got to the big leagues pretty quickly. Ev­ery pitcher goes through pe­ri­ods of time where they give up more runs or do some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently.

“What we fo­cus on is Ger­rit Cole’s stuff and his work ethic and who he is as a per­son and how he’s go­ing to fit in our sys­tem. I think all of those things really are pos­i­tive for us. We ex­pect him to bounce back and be a Cy Young con­tender, which is what he was ear­lier in his ca­reer and there’s no rea­son why he can’t con­tinue to do that.”

The Astros an­tic­i­pate in­tro­duc­ing Cole in a news con­fer­ence Tues­day at Minute Maid Park. With the Astros, he is re­united with Mor­ton, his ro­ta­tion mate in Pitts­burgh from 2013 to 2015. The two friends have been in touch through­out this off­sea­son, in­clud­ing last week in the af­ter­math of an er­ro­neous MLB Net­work re­port that pre­ma­turely had the Astros and Pi­rates agree­ing to a deal in­volv­ing Cole.

“I’m ex­cited for him,” Mor­ton told the Chron­i­cle on Satur­day night. “I’m also ob­vi­ously ex­cited for the Astros. But I’m ex­cited for Ger­rit be­cause I think the way that the team is built and the way that the ro­ta­tion is built, it helps him. It’s like he doesn’t have as much weight on his shoul­ders, and he’s al­ways had that.” Club con­trol through 2019

Cole, who is rep­re­sented by agent Scott Bo­ras, will make $6.75 mil­lion in 2018 and be ar­bi­tra­tion el­i­gi­ble for the fi­nal time be­fore the 2019 sea­son. Af­ter adding Cole and re­mov­ing Mus­grove, Feliz and Mo­ran, the Astros’ 40man ros­ter stands at 38 play­ers.

Luh­now and Pi­rates GM Neal Hunt­ing­ton agreed on the play­ers who would go back to Pitts­burgh in the deal on Satur­day morn­ing. Play­ers were in­formed late Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Mus­grove, who spent his Satur­day at Minute Maid Park for the Astros’ FanFest, learned of the deal shortly be­fore take off of his flight home to San Diego.

The Astros had dis­cussed Cole with the Pi­rates be­fore the July 31 non-waiver trade dead­line. Ne­go­ti­a­tions re­sumed a month ago when the team’s front of­fices met dur­ing base­ball’s win­ter meet­ings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

“Flat-out elated,” Cole told the Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette. “This is an un­be­liev­able op­por­tu­nity.”

Duane Burleson / As­so­ci­ated Press

Newly ac­quired righthander Ger­rit Cole fig­ures to slot in the mid­dle of the ro­ta­tion be­hind former Cy Young Award win­ners Justin Ver­lan­der and Dal­las Keuchel.

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