Just days after a Gerrit Cole trade to the Astros seemingly fell through, the two teams completed a deal that sent the Pirates big right handed starter to Houston for four players. Someone may have jumped the gun in reporting the trade, but both sides ultimately agreed on a deal that left some Pirates fans shocked and in dismay.
A closer look at what the Pirates received in return will help to determine if disappointed Pirates fans are right or if they are simply just overreacting without much knowledge of the players the Pirates received in the trade.
Starting pitcher Joe Musgrove headlined this trade and provides the Pirates with enough upside to have him step into the rotation right away to fill the void left by Cole’s departure. Third basemen Colin Moran represents a safe option to replace Jung-Ho Kang at third base, and potentially give the Pirates a long-term solution at the position. Michael Feliz figures to join the Pirates bullpen right away, as another flame throwing complement to Dovydas Neverauskas and Felipe Rivero. Also Jason Martin helps to provide the Pirates with needed minor league depth at the outfield position, that had been depleted beyond the presence of Meadows and Luplow in Triple-A for the team last season. All of this adds up to what may have been a great baseball move for both sides involved. This leads us to the question, are the Pirates a better team today than they were to finish out the 2017 regular season?
Musgrove provides the Pirates with exactly what they need to make a quick transition with life after Gerrit Cole in Pittsburgh. Taillon slots into the top spot in the rotation, but the high upside of Musgrove has him not far behind. Upside and other such words are often not taken seriously by the casual fan, because they hear those words thrown around too often when referring to young and lesser known players. The upside will be apparent when he is striking out batters quite regularly for the Pirates, using a mid-90s fastball to set up his spectacular array of off-speed deliveries. While Musgrove does not throw an off-speed pitch that nobody has ever heard of, his curveball, slider and changeup all flash the ability to play as plus pitches at the MLB level. To paint a visual picture, his changeup at times can resemble a screw ball with the excellent arm side fade, and his curveball finishes so well that it seems to dip down and away from batters.
With the strengths quite evident, a look at the weaknesses is necessary to tell the whole story on Musgrove. Pirates fans have become accustomed to seeing the mechanically sound Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon on the mound for the club two out of every five games. Musgrove is not as tight mechanically as either pitcher, so despite the great off-speed pitches, they do have a tendency to wander into poor locations on the plate every so often. This contributed to a high home run rate on swings against each and every one of his offerings. His mechanics are good enough to put together efficient outings, and the stuff generates a significant swing and miss rate. He is definitely a step down mechanically from what Pirates fans will see from Taillon in the upcoming season, but his mechanics are consistently better than Glasnow’s and probably better than what Chad Kuhl put on display in 2017 as well.
The former first round pick of the Marlins never put himself in the conversation with the elite prospects around baseball after being drafted sixth overall by the Marlins in 2013. At age 25 however, he is now MLB ready and fills a position of need for the Pirates. The scouting report on Moran ever since his final season with the Tarheels has been a narrative about how high his floor is as a potential everyday player at third base at the MLB level. While a safe player is not the type of player the Pirates have targeted in the past, Moran is exactly what the team needed after Pedro Alvarez failed to stick at third base and Jung-Ho Kang cut his MLB career short through bad decision making. Moran has always been known for his polished defense at third base, and his approach at the plate has been an asset for every baseball team he has ever played for. He does not have the light tower power to achieve the star level of Kris Bryant, but as a bigger version of a player with a similar skill set to David Freese, he has the opportunity to add to the Pirates win total as the team’s starting third basemen. During the best season of Freese’s career, he hit 20 home runs. For Moran, its not unrealistic to expect 20 home runs almost every season with a slash line of .270/.330/.450 on a regular basis.
Feliz fits the mold of the struggling young relief pitcher that the Pirates have had so much success in grooming into an elite late inning reliever over nearly the past decade. This recent trend dates all the way back to 2009, when a struggling young Joel Hanrahan joined the Pirates in a trade that sent Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. Most recently the Pirates coaching staff helped another young reliever from the Nationals, to overcome struggles to become one of the best closer’s in the game for the 2017 season. Michael Feliz will join Felipe Rivero at the back end of the Pirates bullpen, where he will use his upper-90s fastball to try to mirror the success that Rivero found with the Pirates last season. Like Rivero, Feliz throws a slider and change up as his two secondary pitches. He sets both up with a big fastball, and his 13 strikeouts per nine innings over the last two seasons are evidence of how well his stuff plays at the MLB level. Feliz joins Rivero, Neverauskas and Santana as the four pitchers who the Pirates will turn to in the late innings when they have the lead. This group of relief pitching talent could combine to give the Pirates the top bullpen in all of baseball in 2018, which in turn could allow them to win more games than they did last season.
Did the Gerrit Cole trade make the Pirates better?
With Joe Musgrove ready to step right into the Pirates rotation, the Pirates are prepared to move on from Gerrit Cole. While Cole may go on to reach his ceiling with the Houston Astros, he never completely settled in and took that next step as the veteran leader on the ball club the way McCutchen did in the 2013 season. With Cole struggling to find ace form in Pittsburgh, a change of scenery gives him the best opportunity to reach his ceiling. This trade also gives the Pirates an everyday third basemen immediately to go with their pitcher for pitcher swap that may have resulted in a small downgrade for the immediate future. The Pirates are marginally better the day after the Gerrit Cole trade, because Houston had significant farm system depth and they were willing to pay fair market value for a potential front line starting pitcher. Most casual Pirate fans overreacted initially to the return on this trade, but after reading this article they should be able to relax knowing that the Pirates management team made a good baseball move to help the franchise return to playoff contention this season as well as the near future.