Cole fire: Astros heat up a hot stove by acquiring Pirates ace Cole
HOUSTON — The Houston Astros already had two Cy Young winners on their staff. They’re hoping Gerrit Cole can make it three.
The World Series champions boosted their rotation with another big arm, acquiring Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a five-player trade Saturday.
The Pirates got right-handers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, third baseman Colin Moran and outfielder Jason Martin for their 27-year-old ace.
Cole will join All-Stars Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander on a team that just won its first crown. Houston breezed to the AL West title with 101 wins, and went on beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.
Cole went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA last season, by far the worst ERA of his five-year career. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft was an All-Star in 2015 but hasn’t replicated those results the past two seasons. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow thinks pitching coach Brent Strom can help Cole recapture that form.
“We expect him to bounce back and be a Cy Young contender,” Luhnow said.
The New York Yankees had been among the teams mentioned in trade talks involving Cole. There hadn’t been a lot of movement this winter on baseball’s hot stove, but this deal could get things cooking. Luhnow said Houston first spoke to Pittsburgh about Cole last July, and the teams have been hammering out this package since the winter meetings.
Chris Archer, Michael Fulmer, Matt Harvey and other prominent starters have had their names tossed around in recent swap speculation.
Cole tied for the NL lead with 33 starts, was third in innings (203) and 10th in strikeouts (196). He is 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in five major league seasons, including 19-8 in 2015.
“This move gives us a better chance over the next two years to repeat and hopefully get another championship,” Luhnow said.
On Friday, Cole and the Pirates reached agreement on a one-year contract worth $6.75 million. He had one year of arbitration remaining and was likely to command a huge raise in 2019, one of the reasons the Pirates had considered trading him.
“Trading Gerrit Cole was not an easy decision. We are very appreciative for what Gerrit has done for our team and organization, especially his important role on the 2013-15 playoff teams,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement.
“Acquiring these four quality young players, three of whom we project to be an important part of our 2018 team, with many years of potential contribution, is an important step for us as we work toward bringing playoff baseball back to our fans,” he said.
The Pirates have slumped badly since those three straight postseason appearances. They dipped to 78-83 in 2016, then slid to 75-87 last year.
Luhnow characterized Cole’s acquisition as having a “significant cost” because the Astros “love” the four players they’re giving up. Musgrove, Moran and Feliz have already appeared in the major leagues and should contribute in Pittsburgh almost immediately.
Musgrove could take over Cole’s spot in the rotation. The 25-year-old has made 25 starts and 49 appearances with Houston over the past two seasons. He’s 11-12 with a 4.77 ERA in that time, but finished out 2017 by posting a 1.44 ERA over 31 1/3 innings of relief.
Moran is the nephew of former major leaguer B.J. Surhoff and could become a similar type of hitter, with high batting averages but only some power from the left side. The 25-year-old is a career .290 hitter in the minor leagues since Miami selected him in the first round of the 2013 draft. Houston acquired the third baseman in a deal for pitcher Jarred Cosart and infielder Enrique Hernandez in 2014, and Moran took a step forward last season by hitting 18 home runs for Triple-A Fresno.
Moran has primarily been a third baseman, though he’s also played first base and left field. He was blocked at the hot corner in Houston by young slugger Alex Bregman but could pilfer at-bats from David Freese in Pittsburgh.
Luhnow said Moran “projects to be an everyday third baseman on a championship team. We just happen to have someone in front of him.”
Feliz is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who struck out 13.13 batters per nine innings in 46 appearances last season. Despite that, he had a 5.63 ERA in part because of subpar control.
Martin is a left-handed hitting outfielder selected in the eighth round of the 2013 draft. The 22-year-old batted .278 with 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases last season split between Class A Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi.