Cole, 27, is coming off his worst season—he posted a 4.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over a career-high 33 starts—but he’s still widely considered to be an imposing front-of-the-rotation starter. While there’s reason to believe he was still affected by the elbow inflammation that limited him in 2016, most of his struggles this past season can be traced to baseball’s home run revolution — he gave up 31 homers, which exceeded his previous career high by 20. Cole still has youth on his side, and while his fastball velocity has dipped a bit, it still remains in the mid-90s. For his career, he has an extremely solid 3.50 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 734 strikeouts and 203 walks in 782.1 innings.
If acquired by the Yankees, Cole could shift from the ace role he currently occupies in Pittsburgh to a middle-of-the-rotation slot, as the Yankees already have an extremely effective trio with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Sonny Gray but don’t have much depth at the back of the rotation, with guys like Jordan Montgomery, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Adam Warren, and Chance Adams currently among the candidates to fill the final two spots.
King mentions Clint Frazier as a player who could be moved in a potential deal for Cole while also writing that the Pirates are in search of pitching prospects close to reaching the majors. The 23-year-old Frazier, who hit .231/.268/.448 with four homers as a rookie in 2017, is unlikely to get much playing time moving forward in New York but could be a cornerstone in Pittsburgh’s lineup. With Pittsburgh likely to move Andrew McCutchen this offseason, Frazier could take over in left field with Starling Marte shifting back to center.
Pitching prospects who could intrigue the Pirates include Adams, Justus Sheffield, Domingo Acevedo, Domingo German, and Dillon Tate. German saw brief big-league action out of the bullpen in 2017 while starting regularly at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Adams and Acevedo topped out in Triple-A, while Sheffield and Tate both finished the season in Double-A.