The Astros have had trade talks with the Pirates regarding starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Astros owner Jim Crane told reporters, including Alyson Footer of MLB.com, on Monday that the team is “actively pursuing a high-end starter” and are willing to utilize either the trade or free-agent market in order to acquire one, so Cole could certainly be a fit.
Cole, 27, would be a very impressive addition to the back of the Astros’ rotation, as he’s a former All-Star and has posted a 3.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 127 career starts. He had a career-worst season in 2017, posting a 4.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with 196 strikeouts, 55 walks, and a career-high 31 home runs allowed over 203 innings. In today’s offense-heavy environment, however, those are pretty good numbers for a guy who would be Houston’s third or fourth starter at best in a group that already includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers Jr. With Keuchel and Charlie Morton set to hit free agency after 2018, Cole would provide the Astros with a bit more long-term stability, as he’s under club control through 2019.
Passan writes that outfielder Derek Fisher has been mentioned as a player who could head back to Pittsburgh in a potential Cole trade, though they’d likely also need to part with either outfielder Kyle Tucker or right-hander Forrest Whitley in order to pull off a trade.
Parting with both Fisher and Tucker would weaken the Astros rather substantially, as they already have somewhat of a question mark in left field — longtime utility infielder Marwin Gonzalez got the bulk of the action at the position last postseason and is in line to do the same in 2018. He’s a free agent after 2018, though, and if he continues to produce like he did in 2017 (.907 OPS with 23 homers), he may price himself out of the Astros’ range. Fisher and Tucker are the only two Astros outfield prospects who are viewed to be close to major-league ready and capable of starting on a long-term basis, so if both were dealt Houston would likely need to find a left fielder for 2019 via the free-agent or trade market. Of more urgency, they’re set to serve as depth options on the 2018 club, and since Gonzalez will have to shift positions if the Astros suffer any long-term injuries in the infield, they won’t have much extra outfield depth if both Fisher and Tucker are moved.
Whitley, 20, is the Astros’ top pitching prospect and one of the most highly-regarded young starters in baseball, so he’s a fairly major ask as part of a package for Cole. He soared through the Astros’ farm system in his first full pro season, reaching Double-A after starting the year in Class A, and he posted a spectacular 2.83 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 143 strikeouts and 34 walks over 92.1 minor-league innings. He’s presumably not too far off from being able to occupy a spot in a big-league rotation, so if he was traded to Pittsburgh, he’d help add to an impressive young group of starters that already includes Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Chad Kuhl and is likely to add Mitch Keller sooner than later.
If the Astros decide that the Pirates’ asking price is too high for Cole, they could still look to add Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta via the free-agent market. Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer and Rays righty Chris Archer have also been rumored to be trade candidates this offseason and could be pitchers that the Astros opt to pursue.