Gerrit Cole Rumors

Quick Hits: Cole, Drew, Vogt

In case you’ve not noticed, Pirates righty Gerrit Cole has delivered on his promise — and then some — thus far in 2015. As things stand, he owns a 2.32 ERA with 9.5 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 and a healthy 55.3% groundball rate. The 2011 first overall pick has, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes, justified Pittsburgh’s decision to take him over a host of other strong options (though Anthony Rendon, Jose Fernandez, and Sonny Gray — among others — could also ultimately stake a claim as the best player from that productive draft). Jayson Stark of ESPN.com says that Cole represents the complete package on the hill, and may have upside that is yet to be fully tapped.

Here are some more stray links from around the game:

  • The Yankees plan to keep utilizing Stephen Drew despite his lackluster batting line, as Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports. Skipper Joe Girardi, who has deployed Drew around the infield, says that the quality of his at-bats have not yet shown up in terms of results but that a turnaround could be forthcoming. Lacking clear solutions up the middle, it makes good sense for the Yankees to give Drew every chance to succeed. If nothing else, as Feinsand notes, his quality defense makes him a useful utility player even if New York were to make an addition at the trade deadline.
  • ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Insider link) looks at the Athletics and where things could be headed for the club this summer. Despite the rough start, there are signs of promise, and the division could still be within reach. If a return to competitiveness is not forthcoming, however, Olney suggests that the club could market not only Ben Zobrist and Scott Kazmir, but also catcher Stephen Vogt. While Vogt is still going to be cheap for some time, that same fact — combined with positional scarcity and his outstanding production thus far (third in the league in both wRC+ and fWAR) — could make him quite an interesting trade piece. While Olney makes clear that he is just speculating, it is certainly an intriguing idea, and one that we can’t put past the always-creative Billy Beane.

Scott Boras On Gerrit Cole, Pedro Alvarez

Scott Boras was on-hand in Pittsburgh yesterday to watch the Major League debut of client Addison Russell and one of Kris Bryant‘s earliest games, but the agent also discussed a pair of other clients — Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole — with local media. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that Boras feels more confident these days that Pirates ownership has a strong desire to compete, and he’ll give the Bucs “an opportunity” to secure his clients as core members going forward.

Boras added that there have been no serious talks of a long-term deal with either player yet, and he also strongly refuted the notion that he discourages all of his clients from signing extensions before reaching free agency. “I always let players make their decisions,” said Boras. “People say I always go to free agency. I can give you 15 players that did not go to free agency.” While he’s correct in stating that his clients don’t all reach free agency as early as possible, the vast majority of them do. Nonetheless, notable examples (via MLBTR’s Extension Tracker) such as Jered Weaver, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Pena and Ryan Madson each signed contracts that gave up free agent years in the guaranteed portion of their contracts.

It remains to be seen whether or not the team will express interest in long-term deals. Alvarez, in particular, may not be viewed as a long-term piece, as he’s seen his role reduced over the past year. The 2013 NL home run leader opened last year as the team’s everyday third baseman — a role he filled in both 2012 and 2013 — but he eventually lost playing time to Josh Harrison. Alvarez developed a serious issue in throwing over to first, making 25 errors in just 99 games at third last year, and he eventually slid over to first base. This year, he’s been platooned with Corey Hart at first base, batting .227/.277/.523 with all but three plate appearances coming against right-handed pitching.

Despite those defensive shortcomings, Boras unsurprisingly voiced a confidence that Alvarez could still be a serviceable third baseman at the Major League level. That, as Sawchik notes, may serve as a rift if the two sides do ultimately try to assess Alvarez’s long-term value. Alvarez would have more value as a third baseman, but the Pirates don’t seem to believe that he can handle that role, or, at the very least, recognize that they have a vastly superior defensive option in Harrison. Alvarez is slated to hit the open market following the 2016 season.

As for Cole, the budding ace can be controlled through the 2019 season, so the Pirates probably don’t feel a strong sense of urgency to complete a contract extension in the near future. Nonetheless, I’d imagine that Cole, along with Gregory Polanco, would be at the top of their list of players they hope to extend. The 24-year-old is off to an excellent start to his 2015 campaign, having worked to a 3.18 ERA with even more encouraging peripheral stats in an admittedly small sample. However, he’s worked to a 3.44 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 50.1 percent ground-ball rate since debuting as a 22-year-old back in 2012.

Madison Bumgarner currently holds the record for largest extension among starting pitchers with between one and two years of service time (Extension Tracker link) thanks to his five-year, $35MM contract in San Francisco. The record for pitchers with two to three years of service (Ext. Tracker link) remains Gio Gonzalez‘s five-year, $42MM pact with the Nationals. I’d expect Boras to set his sights significantly higher if he were to have serious extension talks either during this season or next winter, as he’d surely look to obtain a premium price on any free agent years sacrificed by Cole.

Whether or not the two sides ever have serious discussions regarding either player seems to be largely up to the Pirates, based on Boras’ comments to Sawchik. “I don’t sign checks,” said Boras. “I’m in the back of the bus. … I get the message when the driver pulls over and says, ‘I need to talk to you.'”


Extension Candidate: Gerrit Cole

The Pirates have recently been amongst the game’s most aggressive teams in pursuing early-career extensions. Since taking the GM seat in Pittsburgh back in the fall of 2007, Neal Huntington has locked up deals with ten players for a total of 37 years and $182.9MM. Only two of those contracts went to players with four or more years of service.

Among the team’s most recent efforts were successful pacts with star outfielders Andrew McCutchen (six years, $51.5MM) and Starling Marte (six years, $31MM), with the former inking with 2.123 years of service and the latter signing with just 1.070 years to his credit. While those deals haven’t all been successful — neither Jose Tabata nor Nate McLouth, for instance, delivered value on their deals, though neither did they hamstring the club — the aggregate benefit to the organization is undeniable.

Pittsburgh, riding high on two straight postseason appearances, spent a relatively large amount through free agency this last offseason and seems in good position to stay competitive for years to come. The team has continued to explore ways to add value to its player assets through extensions: in particular, it made a long-term offer to then-untested outfielder Gregory Polanco last year, though those negotiations seemingly stalled. In spite of their relatively meager spending capacity, the Pirates appear to have plenty of future flexibility, with less than $12MM on the books for 2018 and even less thereafter.

While another run at Polanco obviously remains possible, it is fair to wonder whether the team might turn its sights elsewhere this spring. Josh Harrison remains an intriguing possibility, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams discussed last fall. Beyond that, there is one obvious potential candidate who brings immense upside — and, given the nature of his craft, risk: young ace Gerrit Cole.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds

Cole, 24, has done exactly what the Bucs hoped when they made him the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, reaching the bigs in 2013 and establishing himself as a quality starter off the bat. To date, he has thrown 255 1/3 big league innings with a 3.45 ERA and 8.4 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9. Advanced metrics suggest he’s been even better, as he owns a career 3.09 FIP, 3.20 xFIP, and 3.28 SIERA. Cole consistently works in the mid-90s with his fastball and has averaged a strong 49.1% groundball rate thus far. Needless to say, the outlook is positive.

If there is one red flag on Cole, it is health. First and foremost, he is a pitcher; as we are constantly reminded, any arm is at risk of injury at any time. But there is some additional cause for concern in his case, as Cole missed significant time last year owing to shoulder issues. He returned and posted good results late in the season, and does not have any significant history of problems prior to 2014. And he has reportedly worked to smooth out his mechanics and incorporated exercises to maintain his shoulder health.

With just 1.111 years of service to his name entering the 2015 season, Cole will not qualify as a Super Two and is set to hit arbitration eligibility in 2017. That means he will not reach free agency until 2020. Despite his rapid ascent to the bigs, Cole will reach the open market at age 29 — still relatively young, but not as early as some quick-to-the-bigs phenoms. Those factors, along with the risk of injury and performance, generally transfer significant leverage to a team, of course.

In this case, though, there are some significant offsetting considerations. For one, Cole was signed to an $8MM deal out of college, meaning he has already secured life-changing money. For another, he is represented by agent Scott Boras. Contrary to popular opinion, Boras has overseen pre-free agent deals for his clients, many of those contracts have not sacrificed free agent seasons. And, on balance, he certainly carries a deserved reputation for bringing his players onto the open market in search of huge paydays.

To be sure, it is far from a sure thing that Cole would be receptive to contract talks at this stage. If he is, however, both sides will have plenty of precedent to work from. Looking in at recent extensions for starters with between one and two years of service, one finds a host of comparables. First on the list has to be Madison Bumgarner, who got five years and $35MM from the Giants while giving up two option years back in 2012. More recently, Julio Teheran and the Braves linked up on a six-year, $32.4MM deal that conveyed one option year to Atlanta.

The Bumgarner comp, in particular, appears to be a good one; indeed, he was perhaps slightly more accomplished — and significantly younger — at a similar point in his service timeline, and had already put up a fully healthy season of over 200 frames. Teheran signed before his age-23 season, coming off of a 185 2/3 inning season of the sort that Cole has yet to accomplish. Cole’s representatives would no doubt point to the $200MM+ contracts that have been given to free agent starters in recent years as evidence of salary growth, though Cole’s shoulder concerns and additional age would serve as counterpoints. While it is, perhaps, possible to argue that Cole possesses greater upside than Teheran, or at least more than he did at the time his deal was struck, projection systems seem to hold the two righties in approximately the same regard heading into 2015.

What is most interesting about Cole’s situation, perhaps, is what it could theoretically tell us about where pre-arb extensions are headed. Somewhat unlike other areas of the market, early-career pitching extensions have not exhibited much growth. In addition to the Bumgarner and Teheran examples, which came two years apart, extensions for pitchers with between two and three years of service have largely followed a script for some time: Gio Gonzalez (five years, $42MM, two options) holds the record in that class, but Chris Sale‘s 2013 deal (five years, $32.5MM, two options) was not substantially different from, say, the 2011 Trevor Cahill contract (five years, $30.5MM, two options).

As I explained in breaking down last year’s notable Freddie Freeman extension, and as the Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton extensions further demonstrate, the position player extension market has seemingly broken out of any molds. On the pitching side, the most significant recent deals have gone to players on the verge of free agency (Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey, for instance). Locking up Cole could require a market-resetting deal; it remains to be seen, of course, whether either team or player are willing to make that happen.



NL Notes: Cole, Roark, Phillies

Pirates ace Gerrit Cole has landed on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue, but the team doesn’t believe the shoulder has any structural damage, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. That could be great news for the Bucs, who will need Cole if they hope to make noise in the playoff race this summer. The injury, which came to light almost three years to the day after Cole was selected first overall in the 2011 draft, is a reminder of the uncertainty of drafting pitchers in a season that’s been full of such reminders. Here are more notes from around the National League.

  • The career trajectory of Tanner Roark of the Nationals is perhaps a more pleasant story about the uncertainty of pitching — the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore describes Roark as “a potential rotation piece that fell out of the sky.” The Rangers drafted Roark in the 25th round in 2008, then shipped him to Washington with another minor-leaguer for Cristian Guzman in 2010. Even in 2013, the Nationals used him as a reliever in Triple-A. But he pitched brilliantly down the stretch for the Nats in 2013 and has been nearly as good this season, posting a 2.91 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 as a key part of Washington’s rotation.
  • Chase Utley of the Phillies tops the list of the best bats who might be available in trade this summer, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. It’s unclear whether the Phillies will commit to trading veterans, but even if they do, some of them (like Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee) would be difficult to trade anyway. Utley, who is signed to a reasonable contract and is still very productive, is a different story. Utley has the right to veto any trade, however, since he has 10-and-5 rights, and the Phillies have shown no interest in trading Utley.

NL Central Links: Cole, Hellweg, Marmol, Cubs

Yesterday the Cubs finally parted ways with embattled former closer Carlos Marmol, and they also cut ties with Ian Stewart after his harsh Twitter outburst against the team earlier this month. Here's more out of the NL Central…

  • Pirates general manager Neal Huntington wouldn't say whether or not Gerrit Cole is on an innings limit for his rookie season when asked by Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Huntington did hint, however, that the Pirates try to prepare their minor leaguers to "log innings without the media attention that some have gotten," which seems to be an allusion to Stephen Strasburg's case last season.
  • The Brewers will promote Johnny Hellweg to replace the injured Alfredo Figaro, reports MLB.com's Kevin Massoth. The 24-year-old right-hander will be the second player from last summer's Zack Greinke trade with the Angels to appear for the Brewers (the other, of course, being Jean Segura). Hellweg, the Crew's No. 6 prospect according to Baseball America, had a 2.82 ERA but a meager 1.14 K/BB ratio in 76 2/3 Triple-A innings.
  • Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Carrie Muskat of MLB.com that Marmol had become a distraction, and it was time to move on. Hoyer had been trying to deal Marmol since last August (Twitter link).
  • Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald notes (on Twitter) that it's likely the Cubs will simply release Marmol, as they're unlikely to be able to find any takers in a trade.
  • Hoyer also told Muskat that he or president Theo Epstein has been in contact with every other GM in the game over the past four to five days as they prepare for the trade deadline rush (Twitter link).

NL Central Notes: Stewart, Cole, Soler

The five NL Central clubs' possible trade deadline moves are highlighted by Grantland's Jonah Keri in his weekly MLB power rankings.  The Cubs have several trade chips to sell while the Brewers may move some relievers at the deadline but wait until the offseason to decide if they're going to truly rebuild, Keri writes.  The Pirates have made deadline additions in each of the past two seasons and have a few clear needs now, though Keri says the current team is good enough to get just a minor upgrade or maybe even stand pat.  The Reds and Cardinals both need bullpen help, with Keri noting that the Cards are deep enough that they can get by with Pete Kozma at shortstop.

Here's the latest from around the division…

  • The Cubs are close to parting ways with Ian Stewart, sources tell CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, with "the resolution allowing him to move to another organization is expected to come within a couple of days."  The move seemed inevitable after Stewart was suspended by the team after he criticized the Cubs organization in a Twitter rant.  Heyman wasn't sure if any financial concessions are involved in the move though since Stewart's deal is guaranteed, he isn't obligated to give back any of the approximately $1MM remaining on his 2013 contract.
  • Gerrit Cole may get sent down to Triple-A once A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez return to the Pirates rotation, GM Neal Huntington hinted during his Sunday radio program (passed on by Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).  Since Cole and Jeff Locke are the only Bucs starters with minor league options remaining, Huntington said “there's a business component to it, as far as keeping our depth….if we need another starter (due to injury) later, it may make sense to send Gerrit back so we have a sixth quality starter.”  While Huntington said that Cole's possible Super Two status won't be a factor in the team's decision, a demotion would guarantee that Cole doesn't receive another year of arbitration eligibility.
  • Yasiel Puig's instant stardom has raised expectations for the Cubs' own Cuban prospect Jorge Soler, though CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney outlines how the Cubs are taking a more measured approached to Soler's development.
  • MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch also expects the Cardinals to get some bullpen help before the trade deadline, though it's likely to be a smaller-name reliever than Jonathan Papelbon, who isn't a fit in St. Louis for several reasons.  Langosch also covers a few other Cards topics as part of this reader mailbag piece.

Quick Hits: Adams, Cole, Twins, Rangers

The 2013-2014 class of free agent pitching is "grim," says Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan. Hiroki Kuroda figures to be the best starting pitcher on the market, Passan says, but Kuroda is 38. A.J. Burnett is also pitching very well in his walk year, but he's 36 and has said he plans on staying with the Pirates or retiring. The likely recipient of the biggest free-agent contract for a pitcher next offseason is Matt Garza, who is 29. Garza ranks sixth, behind five hitters, in Tim Dierkes' recent 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings. Kuroda ranks seventh, and Burnett eighth. Here are more notes from around the league.

  • The Cardinals aren't interested in trading Matt Adams, ESPN's Buster Olney tweets. Adams, 24, is hitting .313/.352/.552 as a bench player this season, and he's blocked by Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.
  • Pirates coaches have more to learn about top prospect Gerrit Cole, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Cole is set to make his big-league debut on Tuesday. "I'll talk to [Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer] and ask if (Cole) is a guy you can converse with during the middle innings of a game, during the down time, or if he's a guy you have to stay away from and let him be in his own little world," says Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Pirates GM Neal Huntington, meanwhile, says that the Pirates would have preferred to let Cole stay at Indianapolis for awhile, but injuries to Wandy Rodriguez, Jeanmar Gomez and others forced their hand. It's unclear whether Cole will stay in the Bucs' rotation after his start on Tuesday.
  • The Twins' selection of Kohl Stewart with the fourth overall pick in this weekend's draft marked the first time since 1992 that the Twins have taken a high-school pitcher with their first first-round pick, writes Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN. That 1992 pick was Dan Serafini, who struggled as a Twin and ended up a journeyman, with brief stints pitching for the Cubs, Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies, and also in Mexico and Japan. The Twins haven't had much more luck with other high-school pitchers taken in the early rounds, Mackey says, although it should help that Stewart was the fourth overall pick. "The odds are good that he's going to surface at the major leagues,"says Twins GM Terry Ryan. "Most of the first rounders surface at the major league level. Now, whether or not they become All-Stars or the types of guys that have the careers of a (Joe) Mauer, that is few and far between. But picking up at the 4-hole, certainly the odds are better than if you're picking at the 24-hole."
  • The Rangers have signed 12 draft picks, including their fourth- through ninth-round picks, according to a team release. One of those signed was catcher Joe Jackson of the Citadel, who is the great-great-great nephew of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.

Pirates To Promote Gerrit Cole

The number one overall draft pick of 2011 is set to make his Major League debut next week.  Gerrit Cole will start for the Pirates Tuesday night as they host Tim Lincecum and the Giants, announced the team.  Cole had been the rumored favorite to fill in for the injured Wandy Rodriguez in that slot.  With nearly 40% of the season in the books, the Pirates are riding high at a 36-25 record, tied for second in the NL Central.  They're bidding to reach .500 for the first time since 1992, but more importantly, the Bucs are fighting for a playoff spot.

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Cole, 22, was drafted 28th overall out of high school by the Yankees in 2008.  He chose not to sign or even negotiate, and his stock had risen when the Pirates drafted him first overall out of UCLA in '11 and gave him an $8MM bonus.  Five other 2011 first-rounders have appeared in the Majors: Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, Dylan Bundy of the Orioles, Trevor Bauer of the Indians, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, and Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Red Sox.  Fernandez, drafted 14th overall with little fanfare, has been the best so far with 67 strikeouts and a 3.17 ERA in 65 1/3 innings this year.

Cole made 12 starts at Triple-A this year, posting a 2.91 ERA, 6.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, and 0.53 HR/9 in 68 innings.  He's allowed two runs in his last 20 1/3 innings.  Cole's overall walk rate is fairly high, mainly due to a three-start stretch in April during which he surrendered 13 free passes in 17 2/3 frames.  He also hasn't missed as many bats as you'd expect.  Prior to the season, Cole was ranked eighth (ESPN's Keith Law), seventh (Baseball America), and eighth (MLB.com) on various top 100 prospect lists.  He sits at 96-98 miles per hour with a well-regarded slider and a decent changeup. 

If he stays up from June 11th forward, Cole stands to accumulate 111 days of Major League service time this year.  We haven't yet seen a Super Two cutoff that low, though it has been suggested that 2.119 will do the trick after this season.  That number is lower than usual because more Super Two players were added in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, as it's now the top 22% of the two-to-three service class.  Bottom line: it's possible, but not likely, that Cole will be eligible for arbitration after the 2015 season if he stays up from this point forward.  Regardless, the Pirates will control this young gun through 2019.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Top Prospect Rumors: Zack Wheeler, Gerrit Cole

With the approximate Super Two cutoff approaching, teams figure to be less hesitant about promoting their top prospects in the near future. Here's the latest on a pair who could be making their debuts sooner rather than later…

  • The Mets are targeting next Friday (June 14) for Zack Wheeler's MLB debut, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Wheeler is scheduled to make what is likely to be his final Triple-A start tonight against Tacoma. The date isn't set in stone, Rubin notes, but is a tentative goal.
  • Former No. 1 overall pick and Pirates top prospect Gerrit Cole could make his first big league start as soon as Tuesday (June 11), writes MLB.com's Tom Singer. Wandy Rodriguez will be unable to make that start after exiting his previous outing with an injury, and manager Clint Hurdle said that spot was open as of right now. The Buccos have two established starters on the mend, but neither James McDonald or Charlie Morton will be prepared to make that start.
  • Michael Sanserino of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes the issue a step further and says that Cole will "very likely" make his MLB debut on Tuesday (Twitter link).

NL Central Notes: Gonzalez, Wainwright, Willis, Bucs

It was on this day in 1986 that Rollie Fingers chose his mustache over the Reds.  The veteran closer was offered a Spring Training invite by the Reds on the condition that Fingers shave his famous handlebar in order to meet with the team's facial hair policies.  Fingers turned the deal down and instead retired, ending his 17-year Major League career and paving the way for his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame. 

Here's the latest from around the NL Central…

  • The Cardinals exchanged figures with Alex Gonzalez this offseason but couldn't come to terms, and the veteran shortstop instead signed with the Brewers, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports.  The Cards' best offer was a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $1MM plus another $1MM if Gonzalez made the roster, which couldn't top Gonzalez's deal with Milwaukee.  A dozen teams scouted Gonzalez's offseason workout sessions, with the Red Sox and Dodgers showing particular interest in the 36-year-old.
  • Steve Hammond, Adam Wainwright's agent, is out of the country for the next 10 days so there won't be any immediate extension talks between Wainwright and the Cardinals, B.J. Rains of St. Louis 1380 AM Radio reports (via Twitter).  We heard on Monday that both sides were keeping the lines of communication open about a new contract for the ace right-hander.
  • Dontrelle Willis talks to CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney about his career, his short-lived retirement, his controversial exit from the Orioles organization and his return to the Cubs on a minor league contract.
  • The Pirates are desperate for success but ESPN's Buster Olney notes that the team must weigh the short-term benefit of a winning season against the long-term costs (both developmentally and financially) of calling up young starters Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole.  MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith noted earlier today that the Pirates could prevent Cole from gaining Super Two eligibility by delaying his callup until mid-June.