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Finding Gerrit Cole’s Trade Value Is Easy, Just Look At Sonny Gray

Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray have very similar careers, which means probably similar trade values.

I’ve very clearly staked out my position on what the Pirates should do this offseason — augment the team and make an earnest run in 2018, then re-evaluate in July. I still feel that way.

But here we are a week out from Christmas and Neal Huntington is still making statements that appear as if he and his staff are dithering on whether to re-load or re-build. What were they doing in October and November?!

The Yankees have been sniffing around Gerrit Cole and he’s a desirous asset, as young grasshopper Alex laid out for your reading pleasure last week. Now I could wow you with numbers about surplus value and prospect worth and grind out how much Cole should return. Heck, I still might do that before I finish this article. But I don’t have to because Gerrit Cole was already traded last July. Huh?

Everyone likes to make comps between Player A and Player B. The vast majority of the time, those comps are tenuous, at best. But in the case of Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray, they are amazingly accurate. Both Gray and Cole were drafted in 2011 (Cole went 1-1, Gray went 1-18 to the A’s) and both made their debuts in 2013 midseason. So these stats encapsulate the same 4+ season timeframe.

Let’s look at some overarching stats between the two:

  • Innings pitched — Cole 782.1, Gray 770.1
  • K/9 rate, career — Cole 8.44, Gray 7.78
  • BB/9 rate, career — Cole 2.34, Gray 2.94
  • HR/9 rate, career — Cole 0.77, Gray 0.85
  • ERA/FIP, career — Cole 3.50/3.27, Gray 3.45/3.67

Just with those five criteria, we’ve built the same pitcher. But what’s even odder is that both have achieved those stats in relatively similar fashion. Both of them have only reached 200+ innings twice in those four full seasons. Both of them had their peak year in 2015. Cole’s 2015 was very shiny (2.60 ERA/2.66 FIP, 5.4 WAR) and would have won him the Cy Young in some years, while Gray’s 2015 was exceptional in its own right (2.73 ERA/3.45 FIP, good for 3.8 WAR). Both had down 2016 campaigns due to injuries.

Cole has the slight advantage in career WAR — 15.9 to Gray’s 12.0 — mostly because of his phenomenal 2015 campaign and his dominant debut in 2013. Both have had whispers of ‘ace’ surround them for years and both have fallen short of that in the minds of many in their respective fanbases.

Last July, the A’s traded Sonny Gray to the Yankees at the deadline for a package that was laden with upside, but swimming in risk. It didn’t have the knockout, can’t miss, blue-chip prospect in it that so many expect in a return for Gerrit Cole. The A’s received three players back for Gray:

  • RHP James Kaprielian (ranked #87 preseason by Baseball America, missed all 2017 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery)
  • SS Jorge Mateo (ranked #85 preseason by Baseball America, a steep drop from his 2016 preseason rank of #26)
  • OF Dustin Fowler (while being showcased by the Yankees he ripped his knee after his 1st Major League at-bat. The A’s still took him.)

That’s it. Two injured players and a shortstop that has a ton of speed, but not a great hit tool, that is a declining asset in the prospect world.

Alex tossed out names like OF Clint Frazier, LHP Justus Sheffield, and 3B Miguel Andujar in his article. At this point, a one-for-one Frazier-Cole deal would actually be an overpay on the Yankees part. What’s even crazier is that Neal Huntington is, as his M.O., shooting straight for the top of the pile in any negotiation.

I love Gleyber Torres, but he’s a top 5 (maybe top overall) prospect in the game. And as much as I think Gerrit Cole is a great pitcher, he doesn’t have that much control and that good of a resume to warrant asking for Torres in a deal.

Sheffield was ranked #91 prior to 2017, so he’s in the same range as Kaprielian and Mateo, but his 2017 was somewhat uninspiring enough that I could see him falling out of the Top 100 altogether. Andujar is intriguing to me and I would be happy to see him as part of the return. It’s possible that Andujar sneaks in the back half of the Baseball America Top 100.

Another name being bandied about is Chance Adams, unranked on the Baseball America Top 100, but should be in the back half of this year’s list. Jordan Montgomery debuted this year for the Yankees and provided 155 innings on the Major League level. His production looks like that of a low-end #3/high-end #4 pitcher, but his appeal is that he’s obviously ML-ready with six years of team control remaining (he’s a near-certainty to be a Super Two arbitration player, as he accrued 153 days of service).

A package of Andujar and Montgomery would lack the zesty names that many people would easily identify with as a return for Cole. However, it’s probably one that is roughly equivalent in value to the one received in the Sonny Gray trade just this past July. Something like Sheffield, Adams, and Andujar would be more equivalent in terms of matching prospect worth at that specific moment in time.

Receiving a pitcher like Jordan Montgomery back doesn’t really move the needle much, either in 2018 as he’s similar to a Chad Kuhl, or down the line as his ceiling is probably where he is right now. The 23-year old Miguel Andujar could be the answer at 3B, but he’s certainly not the can’t-miss prospect that many observers would be hoping to receive in return for trading Gerrit Cole.

I still believe that Gerrit Cole can tap into his 2015 form again. It’s there. He’s shown it. If he can, he’s the only pitcher on the Pirates’ staff (yes, including Taillon) that has that ceiling and ability to front a playoff-contending rotation. I’d keep him and his compatriots and re-assess in July. If the Pirates are out of it, the calculus of the discussion changes entirely.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

11 Comments on Finding Gerrit Cole’s Trade Value Is Easy, Just Look At Sonny Gray

  1. Mark Gaudiano // December 19, 2017 at 9:27 AM //

    The Pirates biggest trade chip is Garrit Cole, so i can understand why NH has asked for the Yankees best prospect in Torres. I think at the least the Pirates should settle for Montgomery, Adams, Andjuar & Frazier for Cole & Harrison.

    • Kevin Creagh // December 19, 2017 at 10:02 AM //

      He’s a great trade chip, but he just doesn’t have the years of control and performance to get Torres. If you’re tossing Harrison into the mix, I still don’t think there’s enough surplus value to get Clint Frazier. In the midseason T100, Frazier was ranked #49, which has $38M of surplus value. By comparison, Torres at the time was ranked #3. Hitters ranked 1-10 in our Surplus Value calc are worth $73M.

  2. Piraterican // December 19, 2017 at 10:39 AM //

    Good sobering article, NH doesn ?t have to trade him so that in itself adds a little value, if they want him they have too overpay, but I agree with you that GT is more than an overpayment it will be just a heist Best course of action might be as you suggested, hold on to him and reassess at the deadline.

  3. Bob Stover // December 19, 2017 at 3:11 PM //

    I don’t believe his value gets any higher at mid-season, and even less if they wait another whole year. Trading Cole alone makes no sense. They either do a total rebuild or they ride it out with what they’ve got and fuss around the edges of the roster to try and shore up for a shot at catching lightening in a bottle. With all that said, N.H. doesn’t like to trade his prospects when he has them, and thinks everyone else should send us top prospects. That rarely happens in the real world.

  4. Joe verkuyl // December 22, 2017 at 8:53 PM //

    Great perspective and analysis. I would love for them to make a run for it this year. If a run isn’t in the cards by midseason the yankees will still be willing to trade for Cole come july. Also this is a great time for the pirates to make a run. The division in my mind looks somewhat weak this year.

  5. If I ?m using your formula correctly. Josh Harrison should carry a surplus value of around $54M and Cole or around $70M. By you ?re saying they wouldn ?t equal Torres ? surplus value, how so?


    • Kevin Creagh // January 2, 2018 at 2:38 PM //

      I would need you to “show your work”. For Cole, what are you assuming his WAR to be and his salaries for 2018/19?
      Same question for Harrison, but we know his fixed salaries. Typically, I don’t include option years because those are guaranteed if he sucks (but include the buyouts).

    • Kevin Creagh // January 2, 2018 at 2:51 PM //

      For Cole, here’s a very quick estimate —
      Salaries — 2018 ($7.5M), 2019 ($11.5M) — total $19M
      Assume 4 WAR per year — 8 WAR at $8M/WAR = $64M
      Surplus $45M for Cole — that won’t get Torres.

      • Looks like we differed on the WAR values on both Jhay and Cole (I used 3.5 & 5 respectively) and I also used $8.5M (2018) and $9M(2019) value of each WAR. After thinking about it I guess you ?d have to recalculate the prospect value if you did that though. Thanks for taking the time to look at it. I enjoy the site.

    • Kevin Creagh // January 2, 2018 at 2:54 PM //

      For Harrison, I’ll include the options even though I typically don’t
      Salaries — 2018 ($10M), 2019 ($10.5M), 2020 ($11M) = $31.5M
      WAR — 2.5 each year, 7.5 total, $8M/WAR = $60M
      Surplus for Harrison = $28.5M

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