Pirates call trading of top starter Cole to Astros ‘the right move’


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Joe Musgrove celebrates the Astros’ division title Sept. 17 in Houston. - AP

Three days after the Pirates and Astros reportedly agreed to a trade involving Gerrit Cole, the two teams actually got a deal done.

Cole was sent to the World Series champions on Saturday in exchange for right-handed starting pitcher Joe Musgrove, right-handed reliever Michael Feliz, third baseman Colin Moran and outfielder Jason Martin.

Tim Brown of Yahoo! was the first to report the completion of the trade, and the Pirates confirmed the deal an hour later.

"Yes, Gerrit Cole is a really good major-league pitcher," Neal Huntington told reporters on a conference call Saturday night. "But as we looked at how we position ourselves to be better as an organization, we felt this was the right move to get these three players that are major-league ready with 15 years of potential contribution combined versus the two Gerrit had remaining. ... As we look to position ourselves to be as competitive as frequently as possible, we thought this was the best move for us as an organization."

The trade came one day after the Pirates and Cole agreed to a one-year contract to avoid salary arbitration. Cole, 27, will make $6.75 million in 2018 and he'll receive another significant raise next offseason before he becomes a free agent following the 2019 season.

Meanwhile, each of the players the Pirates acquired will make the minimum in 2018.

"I'm ecstatic," Cole told MLB.com. "I got the phone call not too long ago, and I was shocked. I couldn't have been more happy. I'm familiar with a few people on the organization and the team."

His agent, Scott Boras, typically has his clients set their value on the free-agent market, and this offseason's two top starting pitchers — Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta — are reportedly asking for long-term contracts valued at roughly $200 million.

So, the Pirates chose to listen to trade offers from various teams, including the Yankees, but the Astros, who tried to acquire Cole at the trade deadline this past season, gained traction in talks over the past week.

Multiple reports had the trade completed Wednesday afternoon, but Huntington and Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters that wasn't the case:

Although the Pirates did add power, outfield depth and potentially a starting third baseman, they did not acquire any of the Astros' top eight prospects, according to Baseball America's rankings.

According to multiple reports, the Pirates and Yankees were close to a deal last month, however, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN said New York was unwilling to part with any of its top prospects: Gleyber TorresEstevan FlorialMiguel Adujar and Justus Sheffield.

They accepted a package headlined by Musgrove, who is unproven as a starter in the major leagues.

Musgrove, 25, was a first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011 and bombed as a starting pitcher in 2017. Although he had a 4.77 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 109 1/3 innings, only 15 of his 38 appearances were in the rotation.

Musgrove was moved to the bullpen in mid-July after he recorded a 6.12 ERA in 78 innings, allowing 16 home runs and a .306 batting average against. He spent the remainder of the season pitching in either the seventh or eighth inning and excelled in that role, recording a 1.44 ERA in 31 1/3 innings.

Musgrove had an 8.10 ERA in seven postseason appearances.

Musgrove will now compete with Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault for the fifth spot in the Pirates' rotation, which will also include Ivan NovaJameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams.

“Joe Musgrove fits the mold of most successful Major League starting pitchers,” said Huntington. “He is physical, athletic, has a multiple-pitch arsenal and aptitude to attack major league hitters. Joe has a quality fastball that is complimented well by his breaking pitches and changeup.”

Moran is a 25-year-old left-handed hitter who batted .308/.373/.543 with 18 home runs and 63 RBI in 79 games for Triple-A Fresno this past season. A first-round pick of the Marlins in 2013, Moran has appeared in 16 major league games, recording seven hits in 34 at-bats.

Moran, who can also play first base, was rated by Baseball America as the Astros' No. 8-best prospect entering the offseason.

Moran will now get an opportunity to be the Pirates' starting third baseman, with David Freese sliding into a platoon role at third and first base.

“Colin Moran ... projects to be a quality left-handed hitting third baseman with developing power,” said Huntington. “Colin is an intelligent, hard-working player who made an adjustment to his swing and approach last season.  His adjustments led to increased power production that should play very well at the major league level, especially at PNC Park.”

Feliz, 24, struggled in 2017 with a 5.63 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 46 appearances in 2017, but he had a breakout year the season prior with a 1.18 WHIP and 95 strikeouts to 22 walks in 65 innings.

He gives the Pirates an additional experienced reliever to add to a bullpen that includes Felipe RiveroGeorge KontosDaniel HudsonEdgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas, among others.

Martin, a 22-year-old who can play all three outfield positions, batted .278 with 18 home runs and 66 RBI in 125 games between High-A and Double-A this past season. However, the Astros opted to not place him on their 40-man roster, leaving him exposed in last month's Rule 5 Draft, and he was not selected by another organization.

Martin, who is currently rated as Houston’s 15th-best prospect according to MLB.com, was selected by the Astros in the eighth round of the 2013 draft. 

The first overall pick of the 2011 draft, Cole has thrown at least 200 innings in two of the past three seasons, including 2015 when he was named an All-Star. Cole was limited to 116 innings in 2016 because of injuries.

He returned in 2017 with a 1.25 WHIP in a career-high 33 starts — 12 more than his injury-shortened 2016 season — and had the second-highest strikeout total of his career while ranking third in the National League in innings. Additionally, he averaged 8.69 strikeouts per nine innings with a 3.1 fWAR — the second-best mark of his career.

Cole will likely serve as the Astros' No. 3 starter in a rotation that also includes Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton.

Taillon and Williams took to Twitter to thank Cole for all he's done:

This also indicates the Pirates are indeed going to retool for 2018, with Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen the next to go. The club will likely go with a full youth movement, rather than giving it one last try with the core that led this franchise back to the postseason.

Freese had an interesting take on the trade, expressing his joy for Cole to get a change of scenery:

Huntington, though, defended the trade.

"We can grow with these players, and I will tell you right now this group of players is going to show up every day with the intent to win that night’s game and look up in September and fight and do everything they can to put us in position to get there sooner than people think we can," Huntington said.

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