2:44pm: The Astros are still engaged with the Pirates on Cole but are also still looking at alternatives, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter).
11:15am: Recent chatter of a possible trade that would send right-hander Gerrit Cole from the Pirates to the Astros intensified early today, with multiple reports indicating the sides were gaining momentum. And Jon Morosi of MLB Network (via Twitter) reported that a deal was in place between the organizations that would send Cole to Houston.
Ensuing reports, though, cast doubt and then fully refuted that agreement had been reached. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said that there was “nothing imminent” in any of the team’s trade talks, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). And Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported (Twitter links) first that the deal had not yet fully been completed and ultimately that the apparent news of an accord was simply a “false rumor.”
All told, it seems there’s no reason at this time to believe a deal is particularly close to coming to fruition, beyond the fact that the sides have evidently engaged in serious discussion. Passan says a trade “is not happening” right now, while noting “talks could pick back up quickly.” And Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter) suggests a trade “isn’t necessarily close.” Indeed, he also hears of another suitor being involved beyond the Yankees (the organization that once seemed likely to land Cole before those talks fizzled). With the necessary proviso that the situation can always change, then, it appears we’re mostly back to the status quo ante on Cole’s trade status.
Cole, now 27, remains a top trade candidate. He was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. He ascended quickly to become Pittsburgh’s top pitcher, though he has not exactly been at his peak of late. In 2017, he worked to a 4.26 ERA in 203 frames. While that represented a promising return to full health after some limitations in 2016, it also was hardly the output that had come to be expected.
In 2015, after all, Cole had fully emerged as a staff ace, turning in 208 frames of 2.60 ERA ball with 8.7 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. While his velocity and key peripherals have largely held steady, Cole was tagged for 1.37 home runs per nine — over twice the rate he had maintained previously. As Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs explains, Cole’s heater surrendered quite a bit of added pop in 2017, but there’s reason to believe he can refine his offerings to regain his standing. Cole will cost a projected $7.5MM in 2018 with one more season of arbitration control thereafter.
For the ’Stros, we’ve seen clear indication of late that the organization wishes to boost an already-strong rotation unit that was already boosted late last year with the addition of Justin Verlander. With Dallas Keuchel, youngster Lance McCullers, and the increasingly interesting Charlie Morton already on hand, along with breakout righty Brad Peacock, it seems Houston’s interest in starters is a want moreso than a need.
On the Bucs’ side, it’s still hard to know how things will play out this winter. Even if the team deals away Cole and other veteran trade candidates (most notably Andrew McCutchen), it may still have some designs on competing in ’18. But parting with Cole would unquestionably mean delivering a major blow to the team’s expectations for the coming season.
More broadly, questions persist about just when and how the player market will get moving in earnest. A deal involving Cole might have given some clarity to the outlook for free agent starters, while perhaps leaving the Astros free to dedicate financial resources to other needs (most notably, the bullpen). But with this prospective swap not occurring — at least at this time — we’re left with the same overall market landscape.