The long-rumored trade of Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros was consummated Saturday night and while it’s nice for the defending champions to secure another solid starter and they didn’t give up anything critical to their immediate future, I can’t help but focus on what Pittsburgh acquired. Right-hander Joe Musgrove could certainly be a potentially fantasy relevant starter. Right-hander Michael Feliz could certainly become a closer. And Colin Moran could start right away at third base and again, he could matter in fantasy.
First there’s Cole, formerly regarded as a top-10 starter but last season there were 38 other starting pitchers that finished greater on the Player Rater. After an injury-filled 2016 campaign Cole surpassed 200 innings for the second time in three seasons and just missed 200 strikeouts, but he wasn’t the same guy from 2016. He permitted 31 home runs and while most will presume moving from a pitcher’s park in the National League to Houston and designated hitters is a really bad thing, it’s not, really. Minute Maid Park played as more of a pitcher’s park in 2017, other than home runs, which is pretty much what Cole’s problem was in 2017. Well, at least he shouldn’t have to worry about run support, so that’s nice.
It’s certainly reasonable to regard Cole as a top-20 fantasy hurler because we’ve already seen him achieve this and the strikeouts should be there, but just be cautious in overrating him as more than that. Yes, the Astros score more runs than the Pirates, but it hardly means a 20-win season is coming. Cole throws hard and the whiffs will be there but that 4.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP weren’t unlucky last season. They were deserved. Perhaps no starting pitchers are truly durable anymore and 200-inning seasons might continue to be rarities, but Cole seems likely to statistically perform similarly in 2018 just like last season, not the top-5 Cy Young season. Ultimately, good for Cole, but statistically not much changes here.
For the Pirates, much is changing, apparently. Cole was about to become expensive in baseball terms, and we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised when longtime outfielder and franchise icon Andrew McCutchen is similarly sent packing. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I like this trade for both the Astros and the Pirates because the minor league numbers for the players headed to the NL are impressive, and Cole’s past 54 starts over two seasons has yielded a 4.12 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He’s basically only aided fantasy managers in strikeouts. What if Musgrove emerges and by 2019 matches his value? It might seem crazy at this point, but consider the cost acquisition in deep leagues as well. Cole will cost a top-100 pick for sure.
Musgrove, for example, certainly looked like an ace in the making in 2015 and 2016 before promotion to the big leagues, but over 25 starts for the Astros his ERA is 5.37, with a home run per outing and a decreased strikeout rate. Meanwhile, Musgrove thrived as a relief pitcher, often for multiple innings, posting a 1.26 ERA in 35 2/3 innings with better command and control. At 25, it’s way too early to give up on Musgrove’s rotation upside, but we’ll see what the Pirates do. I see a guy that could post a 3.50 ERA over 30 starts, with say 170 strikeouts per 200 innings. The organization has other intriguing arms likely ready for a chance to start in the majors, including Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes, and Mitch Keller brings ace potential. I’ll be targeting Musgrove in NL-only formats.
Feliz was converted from starting to the bullpen and over the past two seasons in the majors he’s struck out 165 hitters over 113 innings. He’s a hard-thrower for sure – and that often brings the lure of saves – and while his slider offers potential, he needs work commanding it. Don’t look at the 5.63 ERA over 48 big league innings last season; a BABIP on the unlucky side of .400 played a role, and his FIP was 3.83. Lefty Felipe Rivero was a terrific closer last season but if the Pirates were smart they’d also trade him with his value extremely high, and it wouldn’t take much for Feliz to push past the likes of Daniel Hudson and George Kontos to earn saves. Feliz is definitely an NL-only, late-game saves target.
As for Moran, a sweet-swinging lefty that finally developed the power many expected from him at Triple-A Fresno this past season, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t earn regular at-bats at third base over the likes of veterans David Freese, Sean Rodriguez and Josh Harrison. The past concerns on investing in Moran in fantasy used to be that a full season of at-bats would result in batting average and little else, but I’ve always liked his plate discipline and ability to hit left-handed pitching, and now the power is coming. Nobody’s saying he’s like Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb yet, but never say never. Moran could be a really good player but again, at this point it’s more for NL-only formats at this point.
The final player included in the trade is minor league outfielder Jason Martin, who reached 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2016 in A-ball, but struggled to get on base and be successful in his steal attempts at Double-A Corpus Christi last season. At this point he’s not a factor in dynasty formats.