Is now the time to trade Gerrit Cole?

There has been talk as of late stating that the Pittsburgh Pirates should consider trading their number one starting pitcher, Gerrit Cole.  Cole has two years left of team control before heading to free agency.  He is a Scott Boras client.  The likelihood that he signs longterm with the Pirates is slim to none.  Is it time to part ways?

In his four and a half seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cole has had his ups and downs.

In total, he has logged 782.1 innings pitched with an ERA of 3.50.  He has 734 strikeouts to 203 walks.  In 2015, Cole was an All Star and finished fourth in the National League in Cy Young voting.  Cole has easily been the Pirates’ best starting pitcher this millennium.

That said, Cole has regressed over the past two seasons.  In 2016, the hard throwing right hander struggled with injuries.  It’s hard to blame him for that.  This past season, Cole was able to pile up over 200 innings pitched but had an incredibly difficult time with the home run ball, giving up 31.  Over the past two seasons, Cole has had an ERA+ of 103.  He’s been a slightly about average starting pitcher.

Why he should be traded

Value.  Pittsburgh Pirates fans are all too familiar with this word.

The Pirates do not shop at Whole Foods for their groceries.  They shop at Aldi.  To optimize maximum value, the Pirates should trade Gerrit Cole this offseason.

At age 27, Cole should be entering his prime over the next few years.  In my estimations, his value is still high.  Cole is a legitimate number two starter, even with his struggles in 2017.  For as high as his value currently is, it has nowhere to go but down.  Two years of cheap arbitration pay to a pitcher like Cole could be harvest quite a package in return, though clock is ticking.

If the Pirates trade Cole now, they would still have a fairly nice starting rotation in 2018.  It would look something like this:

  1. Jameson Tallion
  2. Ivan Nova
  3. Chad Kuhl
  4. Trevor Williams
  5. Tyler Glasnow/Steven Brault/Nick Kingham

It would be a younger unit with a pretty high ceiling.  Nova would help bear the load.  This unit could be competitive in 2018.  They could also struggle via lack of experience.

The return Cole would fetch would have to be substantial.  If they trade him, a return including a young, emerging, controllable bat would be great.  Someone like Jonathon Schoop comes to mind.  Schoop, like Cole, has two years left of control.  The Orioles desperately need starting pitching.  The Pirates need a thumper in the middle of their order.  This is just me spit-balling, but a return like that would be fair on both ends.

If the Pirates choose to trade Cole for prospects, the return would have to include at least one A-type prospect with a few B’s.  Anything less would not be worth it.

Why he should not be traded

With Cole involved, the Pirates have the makings of a potentially great starting rotation IF he bounces back AND the young guns continue to progress.  Taillon goes from being the ace to the number two.  Nova goes from the number two to a middle of the rotation innings eater.  Kuhl and Williams would continue to anchor the end of the rotation.  Glasnow gets more time if he needs it.  Brault and Kingham provide depth.

If Jung-Ho Kang is able to return to the Pirates next season, I would not trade Cole.  With Kang at third base, the offense would be set for 2018.  The team would basically be set.  Stay the course and hope for the best.

The fact of the matter is that the Pittsburgh Pirates were hit with everything short of a tornado in 2017.  Kang was gone.  Marte was gone for half of the season.  Polanco was nagged by countless hamstring injuries.  The front office had no go answer for any of those vacancies.  Taillon got sick for a while.  Cole struggled as the leader of the staff.  Much more went wrong than it did go right.

It would be unrealistic to expect the same amount of bad luck to continue for a second straight season.  Assuming that Marte and Kang return and Polanco can stay healthy (yeah, I know), the Pirates could have a potent offense in 2018.  Bell will get better.  The outfield can’t get any worse than it was in 2017 (sans McCutchen).  Kang would produce far more than David Freese did in 2017.  A bench of Freese, Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez, Elias Diaz, and either Jose Osuna or Max Moroff would not be too shabby either.

The ultimatum

If the Pirates’ front office truly believes that the team can contend in 2018, they should not trade Gerrit Cole or Andrew McCutchen unless they feel that equal major league ready value is exchanged in return.  The Pirates could remain competitive.  They could add cheap complimentary pieces when needed.  They could bolster the bullpen this offseason.  There’s always the option to add at the trade deadline.

On the other hand, if the front office does not believe there is a realistic shot at winning in 2018, trade and start over.  Doing otherwise would be foolish.

Nathan Hursh

Nathan is a graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in journalism. He has been a lifelong Pirates fans and loves watching baseball. Along with baseball, Nathan also has a passion for watching football and basketball. When he is not sitting on his couch indulging in sports, Nathan likes to be active outside. Along with Twitter, he can also be found on Instagram at nathan_hursh.