Analyzing a potential Pittsburgh Pirates – Minnesota Twins Gerrit Cole trade

With reports that the Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins have talked about a trade involving Gerrit Cole, here is a look at how the clubs line up as trade partners.

Mike Berardino of Minnesota’s Pioneer Press has reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins have discussed Pirates hurler Gerrit Cole’s availability.

First, it must be noted that Berardino’s reporting gives us no indication of how far talks have gone, if they are still ongoing or how serious they were in the first place. Teams will often go about their due diligence by asking around other clubs for a player’s availability.

Having said that, today we will go through an exercise wherein we will attempt to line up the Twins and Pirates as trade partners in a potential Cole trade. Minnesota completed on hell of a turnaround in 2017, besting their 2016 win total by 26 games. Now that the club is seemingly ready to give its core a serious shot at contention, what goodies can be had from their cupboards?

How about a baseball trade?

With Pittsburgh Pirates brass repeatedly pointing to 2018 as a “last gasp” to contend with an Andrew McCutchen-led core, the first thought when dreaming up a potential trade — any trade, really — is how close a possible deal is to a ‘baseball trade.’ That being, a trade with major league talent going back and forth.

A quick look up and down the Twins’ roster shows a dearth of major-league pieces that would plausibly be available. A dream scenario would be to see the Pirates land LF Eddie Rosario. Rosario is pre-arb eligible, controlled through 2022, slashed .290/.328/.507, and tallied 27 home runs.

So, yeah, that’s not going to happen.

First, it must be noted that Berardino’s reporting gives us no indication of how far talks have gone

The Twins are full of quality position players under team control for the foreseeable future. Jorge Polanco and Byron Buxton are perfect examples of non-tradeable pieces. Robbie Grossman — who the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted in 2008 — plays multiple outfield positions but trading Cole for a part-time player would be asinine. Joe Mauer‘s contract is a tough pill to swallow, and he can only play first base at this point in his career.

The Pirates also have enough sense not to even attempt to bring in Miguel Sano via a trade.

So what’s left? Well, star second baseman Brian Dozier for one. Dozier has turned into an enviable slugging option at the keystone, sending out a combined 76 home runs over the past two seasons. Dozier is ultra-affordable at just $5 million in 2018. He then becomes a free agent in 2019 and will undoubtedly look to cash in.

So why would the Twins trade him? The possibility is there that Minnesota might want to get something for a depreciating asset. Sacrificing a year of Dozier for two years of Gerrit Cole might appeal to Twins brass. From the Pirates perspective, it would be a hell of a gamble, one that this sometimes risk-adverse front office might balk at. It would take an honest accounting of the team’s back end rotation options — namely, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault and Nick Kingham — to determine if they can afford to lose Cole.

If Pittsburgh comes to that decision, a haul of Dozier plus prospects might turn enough heads to strike a deal. With Cole projected at $7.5 million in arbitration for 2018, the $2.5 million in savings could be reinvested elsewhere, perhaps into the bullpen.

Considering all of the above, it is plainly clear that a potential swap would have to include some prospects coming back to Pittsburgh in some fashion.

What about those prospects, then?

If you gave Pittsburgh Pirates fans a list of Twins prospects to peruse, the first name that would come back on their wishlist is INF Nick Gordon.

Gordon is the Twin’s number two prospect and the 29th-best prospect overall according to MLB Pipeline. He has a solid approach at the plate, with a 55-rated hit tool, as well as strong marks in fielding and arm strength.

Considering all of the above, it is plainly clear that a potential swap would have to include some prospects coming back to Pittsburgh in some fashion.

The only issue with Gordon is an issue that is out of his control. He plays shortstop and second base, two positions in which the Pittsburgh Pirates are well stocked in the upper rungs of their system. Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker and Kevin Kramer all took considerable strides this year, and though Gordon would seemingly be somewhat of an upgrade over any one of those options, getting an incremental improvement would not be worth losing two years of a top of the rotation MLB starter.

However, after Gordon there is an interesting left-handed pitching prospect in their third-ranked prospect, Stephen Gonsalves, who doubels a the fifth-best left handed prospect overall. Gonsalves has an ETA of 2018 from MLB Pipeline, and carries a pretty well-developed changeup to go along with his fastball. His curve is projected to improve as well, and there is a slider lurking in his arsenal somewhere as well.

Gonsalves reached Triple-A last year after dominating Double-A, and did have some growing pains there. Still, noted prospect watchers believe strongly that his floor is a mid-rotation starter at the very least. He would be a nice package to headline a potential Cole-for-prospects deal.  The Pittsburgh Pirates have no left-handed pitching prospects close to being major league ready, with their best left-hander being Taylor Hearn, who is still a year or more away from serious major league consideration. The club also carries LHP Brandon Waddell, who will make a nice back of the rotation starter provided he can stay healthy.

If a potential deal does include Dozier, the Pirates can forget about top-level talent, but they should be able to wring at least one decent prospect away from the Twinkies. There are two catchers — Ben Rortvedt  and Mitch Garver — in the Twins’ system at number 21 and number 22, respectively. The Pirates could use a catching prospect in their system (apologies to Jacob Stallings and Jin De Jhang).

There are also some ‘cheaper” left-handed prospects to be had in the bottom half of the Twins’ top 30. Number 15 Lewis Thorpe already has a 60-rated fastball, a developed changeup, and two breaking pitches in a curve and slider. Despite already going through Tommy John surgery, scouts are still high on him. Number 18 Tyler Watson has a less-developed fastball, but a tad better control. All of the pitchers listed here, including the top talent, have the all too coveted third pitch, something that could push the Pittsburgh Pirates towards valuing them high enough to put them in a package with Cole.

Make no mistake, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in no means a position wherein they must deal Gerrit Cole. However, teams will be checking in with Pittsburgh regularly on his availability. With contending teams likely looking for Cole to take them over the top, Pittsburgh may have their pick of prospects to choose from. Actually consummating a deal that will justify losing Cole’s services will be much tougher.

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)