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)

  • redrage97

    I dont’ really see them being a match for Cole, the prospects required would be too much for their system to give up. If the pirates trade cole they’re giving up on ’18 and probably ’19.. they wouldn’t want an mlb player in return (baring other moves)

    At minimum i’d be asking for Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, LaMonte Wade, and Ben Rortvedt two top 100 pitching prospects that should be here in a year or two with mid/back end potential.. a OF Lefty prospect who should be at least a 4th OF and a catching prospect who should be at least a depth option. I’d also want a fill in arm like maybe Kyle Gibson? I’m not sure what the story is with him.. is he “washed up” there or is it something else? i duno who but someone who can take a spot in a rotation at least until we got someone moving up that is better and doesn’t cost much.

    • CentralAmericano

      Twins fan here. I think we’ve got the same question about Gibson! But the generally shared perspective from our end on Gibby is that he’s got the stuff to be a solid #3 starter. He was horrible to start 2017: on May 4 Gibson was 0-4 with an 8.20 ERA. Terrible. Got demoted. Came back up and went gangbusters the rest of the way, going 12-6 with the Twins winning every one of the final 8 games Gibby started. He’s certainly a mystery but he’s much better than just a ‘placeholder’. Gibson could get you 12 or 13 wins and slot in nicely into the #3 or #4 spot. Good luck next year, I think the Pirates need to make some moves and the Twins would love to take Cole off your hands. Gonsalves would be a nice get for ya, we’d hate to see him go that’s for sure, same goes for Nick Gordon.

      • redrage97

        Good to know about Gibson, thanks!

    • cman

      Gonsalves + Romero + Rortvedt + Gibson + Wade? Why don’t you ask them for Buxton and Sano as well. That’s way too much to give up for two years of cost controlled Cole. No way that happens. Gonsalves, Gibson and Rortvedt would be a haul for Pittsburg and more than enough.

      • redrage97

        Pittsburgh has an H. common mistake even with those that live there 🙂

        but yeah, Cole isn’t going anywhere unless it is a deal like that. Gonsalves and Remero are the bottom half of a top 100 at best mid/bottom rotation assuming they amount to anything at all. Wade is a toss in.. really toss in any of the Twins lower top 30 that’s a position player and one of the Catching prospects. I didn’t know about Gibson turning it around the second half so yeah.. take him off that list, i would think the team would want to keep him now.

        Last season at the deadline the A’s got three very good prospects for Grey, with similar control. Given that Cole is only passively on the market, it would take something at least that good if not better than what was given up for Grey.

        You’ll look at Gerrit’s stats and be like why? he was a top cy young candidate and then the following season dealt with injuries that held him back and last season he was also very good but for whatever reason if it was hit in the air it was going out of the park. I’m sure a fresh pair of eyes would correct that problem. (our pitchers development went to crap after Jim left)

        As far as MLB players go.. the only big needs the pirates have are Third and Short and they’ll want someone with a bit more control. I doubt the twins would want to part with theirs if they’re prepping for a run.

        Point is.. if you want Cole its going to drain your system. He’s better than his ERA suggests and the Pirates are reluctant to give him up.

        • cman

          Cole had a 4.26 era last season and gave up 31 homeruns. He also had a whip of 1.25 and 1.46 the previous season. That’s average. Anything around 1.00 whip or less is very good and expected from an ace. He’s also has A LOT of difficulty after the 2nd time through most NL batting orders and that’s due to his over use of the fastball. Don’t get me wrong i think he’s a good pitcher but he’s not Verlander, Arrietta, Sale, Sabathia, ACE caliper by any stretch of the imagination. And no Cole is not going to drain our system and he’s not better than his ERA suggests.

          • redrage97

            No he isn’t going to the twins because the twins don’t want to drain the twins mediocre farm system for a front line starter especially when they would be giving up two pitchers who have the potential to be 3’s in the fairly near future.

            as i said, last year the problem was the ball getting in the air, if it did it was going out. and in 2016 he was dealing with injury much of the season. If you look at 2017 and 2014, pretty much all his stats are similar except for HR/9 which is probably double what you’d expect he do in a bad year. (which of course leads to ERA and WHIP rising)

            The problem wasn’t over use of the fastball, he used the fast ball less this season than at any point in his MLB career.

            no one said he was any of those pitchers.. If he had a different coaching staff he could be close though. Even if he was, they would be poor comps because of contract situation. Grey is the best comp i found in a quick search.

            Yes he is better than your ERA Suggests and no he isn’t going to the Twins because the Twins wont’ pay what is required for a player whose team doesn’t really want to trade him.

          • cman

            Mediocre farm system? WTH are you talking about. The twins farm system was ranked 3rd in 2015, 8th in 2016, and 15th in 2017 due to graduation of prospects. A system that has produce Kepler, Rosario, Buxton, Sano, Berrios and soon to be Gordon. They also have a number of highly regarded pitching prospects in AA. I don’t have illusions about there needs from the pitching side but I also don’t have illusions about an over valued Gerrit Cole who can’t seem to stay healthy for more than one season at a time and put up all-star stats one season of a five year career so far. The Twins & Pirates wont’ make a trade because the Pirates don’t want to trade Cole which i completely understand.

          • redrage97

            Mediocre means average. Pirates where in a similar boat the past few seasons. Of the pirates starting position players all but Cervelli and Freese are in house products.. well harrison.. but he made his mlb debut for the pirates. the Same can be said about the starting pitching with Nova the only FA and Williams made his debut with the pirates.
            The bull pen (or lack there of) is another story. So yeah I get what you are talking about… but now.. after the first few top prospects in the organization We’re pretty thin (like the twins)

            Look, I’m not over valuing Cole. I wouldn’t give up that much for him. But the FO isn’t going to take something that isn’t ‘lop sided’ when we’re trying to compete. But i’m giving you all the reasons that the Pirates would be using to push. I assume they’re using Sonny as a comp being the only one i can find that is close to Cole and it isn’t that far off.

            he gave up on his fast ball too soon going to his secondary pitches and he also lost a tad bit of velocity but still hits triple digets fairly often

  • Doc

    Outside of Gordon ( and NH cannot turn down any Middle infielder it seems) there really is no-one I would want

  • leadoff

    The Pirates would be lucky to get Dozier even up for Cole. Cole doesn’t carry get you to the promise land numbers. Power trumps potential.

  • Todd Tomasic

    Gonsalves is not a power pitcher. Brault is a lefty non-power pitcher & has pitched well in AAA. The Twins are

  • Minnesota Twins Guy

    Another Twins fan here. Thanks for writing this, always interesting to see trade rumors from the opposing teams perspective. I don’t think I see a match involving Dozier. If the Twins can get away with trading Dozier plus a lower level prospect for Cole then I think that is a win for us. Dozier only has one year left on his contract and I don’t see that really interesting the Pirates. The prospect angle is where this conversation is interesting. The Twins top tier of guys consists of 4 guys. Royce Lewis, Nick Gordon, Stephen Gonsalves, and Fernando Romero. Royce Lewis is likely the only one of that bunch that is untouchable realistically. My best guess is that the Pirates will want 2 out of the 3 of Gordon, Gonsalves, and Romero. I also would guess that the Twins would insist on only 1 of those guys being included. So that might be where the negotiations start to pick up. I did an Off-Season Blueprint where I have the Twins Trading Nick Gordon, Felix Jorge, LaMonte Wade, and Kohl Stewart for Cole. Pirates fans: what would you think of that Trade? Would that be enough of a return for Cole or no? My gut says that the Pirates may want more and that is fair, but I’m not so sure that it would make sense for the Twins to strip down the farm for only 2 years of Cole

    • redrage97

      Thanks for checking in!

      Nick Gordon is a good prospect too look at but shouldn’t be a target for the pirates since they have Kramer, Newman and Tucker up the middle. Of one or more of those players happen to go back to the twins in trade they maybe. Stephen and Fernando would be a must along with one of the Twins catching prospects (Ben Rortvedt preferably) and one other. Wade looks interesting as he isn’t too far out and that timing might be perfect for insurance for meadows.. and face it… fourth outfielder types are a dime a dozen

      But the pirates must figure out why so many of their young pitchers are having problems with the talent they got. Scouting? Coaching? or Just to high of expectations?

      Might only be two years of Cole but if anyone is offering less than two top 100 prospects (unless they ares a top 10) you walk away. but I think you are right.. i don’t think the twins should be doing much more than checking in on him… just to much for the system to handle

  • IwinAgain

    I’d offer Doz for Cole, straight up. Maybe throw in a 3rd round draft pick. Other than that, he isn’t worth raiding the “cookie jar” to get. 5 seasons a 3.50 career era with a 4.26 era last year? No thanks, that’s what keeps putting the Twins on the bottom of the ERA list every year. I think offering Doz is MORE than generous. Hell, we outta get one of those infielders in their farm system for him along with Cole. He plays, rarely gets hurt, hits homeruns and steals bases. Easily a 150 game a year player. Tell the Pirates to take it or leave it.

  • Eric DeWitt

    Twins fan here. I’m not sure I understand why you shut down the Rosario scenario. Yeah, he’s got four years pre-FA, but he’s flawed, and he’s an OF. I’d gladly give up those four years for two of Cole approaching FA. I think Rosario’s talented and perhaps has a star year in him somewhere, but I’d take my chances on Cole.