As this is my first time writing for this awesome site, I feel the need to introduce myself. My name’s Nathan Landolt. I’m from Houston, Texas, and a recent grad…oh…wait, sorry. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow just threw wrench in that. Nearly a week after owner Jim Crane proclaimed the team’s interest in a front line starter, Gerrit Cole is headed to Houston.
Going to the Burgh, the Astros sent slightly established reliever yet intriguing starting option Joe Musgrove, a fireball reliever in Michael Feliz, solid-but-not-great hot corner option Colin Moran, and Rule 5 Draft eligible outfielder Jason Martin. That’s three major league ready players and one that is not too far away. Altogether, they amount to 21 years of team control against Cole’s two.
This is a complicated question as my reading of Bucs’ fans’ opinions show two camps. The first seems somewhat excited about the possibility of Musgrove in the rotation, Feliz being used in high-leverage relief situations, and Moran potentially getting 400 ABs while platooning with Freese. The second group is disappointed that GM Neal Huntington has once again prioritized major league readiness rather than prospect pedigree. In other words, should the Pirates have settled for this package of four, or sought a one-for-one deal for someone like Kyle Tucker or Clint Frazier (or Gleyber Torres if you’re in favor of asking for the moon just to hear its reply)?
In short, I have no idea. What I can say as an Astros fan is that all of these players have a history with us and many fans hoped to see them succeed in a Houston uniform. Musgrove may be somewhat of a post-hype player, but he is a 6′-5″ flamethrower who was influential in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. However, he most likely would have been stuck in the bullpen for the foreseeable future (something he alluded to at AstrosFest just hours before the trade). That’s not a bad thing as he showed in the second half of the season, but he could be much more than that. In Pittsburgh, he has an opportunity to not only start, but also to fail. With the Astros window being open now and possessing an already deep rotation even before adding Cole, Musgrove would never have gotten that chance.
The same can be said for Moran who is blocked by budding superstar Alex Bregman. The left-handed hitting Moran has a solid bat which finally showed in Triple-A last season and earned him a call-up. He hit a homer in his first AB, but fouled a ball right above his eyes in his next plate appearance. It was harrowing to watch, but he bounced back and I’m glad he has a chance to get serious ABs in a platoon role with righty David Freese. As with Musgrove, I imagine Moran will be given more opportunities to establish himself as a major leaguer in Pittsburgh than he would’ve gotten with the Astros.
Michael Feliz has a long and varied history with the Astros. He throws pure heat with a decent but hard to control changeup. Like many inconsistent relievers, he carries both high strikeout and walk rates. He has upside, but due to Houston’s signings of Joe Smith and Hector Rondon, Feliz was most likely doomed to start the season at Triple-A.
Jason Martin is the wild card here. While he was unprotected during the Rule 5 Draft, he is something of a darling among many prospect-oriented Astros fans. Everywhere he goes in the minors he performs admirably. He shows 15-20 homer power and 15-20 SB potential, but according to scouts, the tools are not there as shown by his low prospect ranks. Nevertheless, it is somewhat disappointing to see him go.
However, we gave up all four of these players for two years of a seasoned and (somewhat) cost-controlled starter in Cole. He is not an ace, but a perfectly viable innings eater with an absolutely amazing arsenal that he has not been able to put together in back-to-back seasons. The wild card for the Astros here is whether pitching coach Brett Strom can have the same effect on Cole as he had on Verlander. If not, this trade may eventually become loathed like another deal from our not so distant past; the great Carlos Gomez Debacle of 2015-16.
However, on paper, this obviously advances our window without harming the length of our competitiveness. When Keuchel and Morton most likely leave after this season and Cole and Verlander leave after 2019, the Astros will still have Francis Martes, David Paulino, Rogelio Armenteros, J.B. Bukauskas and, the most pedigreed of the group, Forrest Whitley. We did not give up our core rotational depth which will be vital in 2020.
That’s the problem many baseball fans, including myself, are struggling to understand. Some fans may suggest that Cole is coming off one injured year, and that another disappointing one may impact his value. However, that doesn’t change the minds of Pirates fans who’ve watched him pitch for years.
Alas, after all this, I have no answers. The Astros have to hope Strom can harness Cole’s potential while the Bucs try to bring out the best in Moran and Musgrove.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or you just want to yell into your keyboard, let me know in the comments.