ASTROS ACQUIRE GERRIT COLE
LATEST PITCHING ADDITION GIVES ASTROS ONE OF BASEBALL’S BEST ROTATIONS
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.”
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.