By: Noah Wright
Back in January 2018, the Pirates decided to deal 2015 All-Star, and first overall pick in 2011, RHP Gerrit Cole. The return was somewhat questionable. They received 4 players in return: Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Jason Martin, and Michael Feliz. It raised some eyebrows because of the lack of a real headliner in the deal. Plus, they were asking for headliners from other teams interested like the Yankees and some of their top ranked youngsters. Regardless, it’s been over a year since the trade, so how does it look in April 2019?
Gerrit Cole was one of the Pirates best pitchers between 2013 and 2015. In that time, he racked up a 3.07 ERA, 2.89 FIP, and 1.146 WHIP. He looked like one of the MLB’s rising stars at the time. He had a powerful fastball, strikeout stuff, good control, and even wasn’t a horrible hitter. While he did ‘struggle’ in 2016, he still turned in a solid 3.33 FIP in an injury shortened season, and kept the ball in the park. However, 2017 was when Cole really started to run into problems. The long ball bit Cole a total of 31 times in 200 and a third innings. That resulted in a 1.4 HR/9 rate, double of his previous high HR/9. Overall, he turned in a 4.26 ERA, 4.08 FIP, and 1.251 WHIP. That off season is when the Bucs decided they had enough of Cole, and shipped him off to the ‘Stros.
Colin Moran was the first player to make a large impact on the team. The lefty swinging third baseman had just come off a nice 2017 season in AAA, recording a .308/.373/.543 batting line with 18 home runs, and a 133 wRC+ in 338 PA’s. He likely would have made a larger impact in the MLB if it weren’t for a freak injury. Moran’s rookie season with the Pirates was pretty solid. He turned in a .277/.340/.407 line with 11 long balls, and a 103 wRC+. Even though the third baseman has been moved to a semi-regular role in 2019, he’s gotten off to a great start, having 2 home runs, and 4 extra base, and 5 walks hits in 35 plate appearances.
Joe Musgrove has silently become a great pitcher in the NL. However before his move to the NL, he was a swingman for the Astros. The season prior to his debut season with the Bucs, Musgrove had a 4.77 ERA, 4.38 FIP, and 1.326 WHIP in 109.1 innings. Musgrove struggled with the long ball, giving up 1.5 per 9. But he did only give up 2.3 walks per 9, showing he could limit walks. After his transition to Pittsburgh, Musgrove showed tons of improvement. He gave up a dozen long balls in more innings (115 and a third innings), just 23 walks (less than 2017), lowered his FIP to 3.59, and WHIP to 1.179. While his ERA was still above 4, Musgrove upgraded his game in every other way. This year, Musgrove is off to a blazing hot start. He’s given up only 2 earned runs in 22 and a third innings, just 4 walks, and no walks. He’s also risen his K/9 to 8.5.
Jason Martin was the prospect thrown into the deal. The outfielder had shown both power and speed throughout his minor league career. During his 2018 season, Martin looked great in Double-A. He batted .325/.392/.522 with 9 long balls, and 152 wRC+ in 289 PA’s. However, when he moved to Triple-A, Martin struggled to a very disappointing .589 OPS. This year, Martin made his debut and looks more like the batter he did in Double-A. In his first 23 plate appearances of his MLB career, Martin has hit .333/.391/.429 with 2 doubles. While his defense has been a bit questionable, he could be the answer in the OF until the Bucs’ 2018 first round pick, Travis Swaggerty is ready.
Michael Feliz has been the most disappointing out of the entire package. Feliz had struggled in his tenure with the Astros. However, he did show good strikeout numbers. However, his first season in Pittsburgh was all but good. He had a 4.3 BB/9, and 1.1 HR/9 rate, showing he struggled with command. While his FIP was 4.13, his ERA was an ugly 5.66, and his WHIP was an even worse 1.510. Feliz started the 2019 season in AAA, and has looked pretty decent. He’s only given up an earned run and 2 walks in 6 innings.
Going back to Gerrit Cole, he’s become the 2 to the 1-2 punch that tops the Astros rotation. Last season, Cole pitched to a fantastic 2.88 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.033 WHIP in 200 and a third innings. He brought his HR/9 back down to earth to just .9, while also increasing his K/9 to an outstanding 12.4, and kept a low walk rate. He helped lead the ‘Stros to the WS as well. But did not play as big of a role as Verlander. This year, Gerrit Cole has gotten off to another good start. He has given up just 9 earned runs in 25 innings, has struck out 36 batters (league leading), walked only 6. Has a WHIP below 1, and a FIP of just 2.50. Though Cole has been bitten by the long ball in 2019, having a 1.1 HR/9 rate.
It’s actually a bit too early to decide a true ‘winner’ to the trade. In my opinion, the 2019 season will decide whether the Astros won it, or if the Pirates won it. Sure, you could say that the Astros won it as Cole did play a role in their trip to the WS. However in the long term, the Pirates could be the winner of the winner in this trade. Cole is on the last year of his deal and it’s unclear whether or not the team will pursue an extension with him. Afterall, they have a lot of money tied up between Verlander, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and George Springer. They also might want to pursue an extension with Carlos Correa over Cole. On the other hand, Musgrove and Moran are controllable through the 2022 season, and Jason Martin is a rookie.