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.
Pirates have wanted Gleyber Torres in a Gerrit Cole deal. Can ?t see yanks giving GT up. Frazier a more likely centerpiece, but would need to be more than 1 for 1. Perhaps andujar or Adams could be 2nd piece. Still negotiating.
? Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 16, 2017
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.