Pirates deal Gerrit Cole to Astros for four players
After weeks of negotiations and several false alarms, the Pirates on Saturday finally traded ace pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros.
The Pirates acquired pitcher Joe Musgrove, third baseman Colin Moran, reliever Michael Feliz and minor league outfielder Jason Martin.
General manager Neal Huntington said it was a tough decision to part with Cole, a former 19-game winner who was the opening day starter last season.
“While (Cole) is going to be a very effective pitcher for the next two years, it was only going to be two more years in Pittsburgh before he tested free agency,” Huntington said. “(We got) four players who we like a lot. Three of them are major league-ready who can fill the holes we think we have. We can grow with these players.”
To acquire Cole, a 200-inning workhorse with a 98 mph fastball, the Astros did not have to surrender any of their top eight prospects. From the outset, Houston insisted its two best prospects, pitcher Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker, were untouchable.
“We felt this was our best return, and it also shortened our window to compete again,” Huntington said. “We liked this total return. There is a lot of fiction out there about who we asked for. There were a large number of players excluded.”
Musgrove, Moran and Feliz will open the season with the Pirates. Martin likely will be assigned to Double-A Altoona. The Pirates have not announced the three corresponding moves for their 40-man roster.
Cole was at dinner to celebrate his wife's birthday when he got the call about the trade. The news blindsided him.
“I wouldn't say it was a gut-punch,” Cole said. “But I was shocked, for sure.
“People come and go. It's part of the nature of the business. As for the Pirates, they obviously believe what they're getting in return is going to pay dividends in the future. They're trying to compete. They feel this is the direction they need to go.”
A few days before Christmas, there was speculation that Cole was headed to the New York Yankees. For several hours Wednesday, Twitter crackled with reports that a deal to send Cole to Houston was imminent.
“There was nothing imminent on Wednesday,” said Huntington, who added the talks were “an ongoing process” that gained traction Friday.
Cole probably is only the first domino to fall for the Pirates, who have triggered another roster retooling phase. Huntington is considering trade offers for other veterans, such as outfielder Andrew McCutchen and multi-purpose infielder Josh Harrison.
“We will continue to engage and look for opportunities that put us in position be be a better major league team than we were the last two years,” Huntington said. “If there is another move that makes sense, we have to engage on it. If not, that's fine as well.”
Musgrove, 25, will open the season in the Pirates' starting rotation. He pitched in 38 games (15 starts) last season for the Astros and went 7-8 with a 4.77 ERA.
A first-round pick in 2011, Musgrove was traded to Houston in 2012 as part of a 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ and others to Toronto.
Moran, 25, can fill in at first base and shortstop, but the Pirates got him to become their everyday third baseman.
“That's the goal,” Moran said. “But, obviously, nothing is going to be given to you. I'm looking forward to getting there in spring training and earning a job.”
In 79 games last season at Triple-A Fresno, Moran hit .308 with a .916 OPS. In 338 plate appearances, he hit 18 homers with 31 walks and 55 strikeouts.
Moran was at a family gathering in New York when he found out about the trade.
“I've known it's always a possibility. I just didn't know where,” Moran said. “Then I saw last week the talk about the Pirates, so I figured it was a possibility. Obviously, it's really exciting.”
Moran was drafted with the sixth overall pick in 2013 by the Miami Marlins. He was traded to Houston a year later.
Feliz, 24, has appeared in 98 games over the past three seasons. The right-hander has a career 5.13 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and averages 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
Martin, 22, was an eighth-round pick in 2013. He split last season at High- and Double-A and batted a combined .278 with an .819 OPS.
The Astros targeted Cole at the trade deadline last summer. When they couldn't work out a deal with the Pirates, the Astros instead got Justin Verlander.
By adding Cole, the Astros make their already formidable rotation even mightier. The World Series champions have pitching depth that includes Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock, Collin McHugh and a slew of prospects.
Cole was the first overall pick in 2011 out of UCLA. Over 127 starts for the Pirates, including three in the postseason, Cole went 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA.
Injuries checked Cole to 21 starts in 2016, but he rebounded last year and was one of just 15 pitchers in the majors to work 200-plus innings. This past season, Cole went 12-12 with a career-high 4.26 ERA and led the National League with 33 starts.
“It's been an unbelievable ride,” Cole said. “It was an honor to encompass the personality of Pittsburgh, that grinder mentality. I was proud to represent the city because I understand what they stand for.”
Cole and the Pirates sat out the postseason the past two years. In a few weeks, Cole will report to spring training as a part of the reigning World Series champs.
“I don't know if I can articulate those emotions at this point,” Cole said. “I'm excited, I'm honored. ... I never would have dreamed I'd be in this situation. You never know how it's going to play out.”
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.