According to Jeff Passan, the Houston Astros are the latest team to engage the Pittsburgh Pirates in trade talks for Gerrit Cole. How do the two clubs line up?
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports is reporting that the Houston Astros are entering the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes.
Sources: The Houston Astros have engaged with the Pittsburgh Pirates on trade talks for starter Gerrit Cole. One name bandied about as a return: outfielder Derek Fisher. For a trade to happen, Pirates almost certainly would need Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley as a centerpiece.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 8, 2018
Passan adds this after an earlier report by MLB.com’s Allyson Footer that stated the Astros were still pursuing a frontline starter. Let’s dive right in and find out if the two teams line up as trade partners.
The Pittsburgh Pirates want an outfielder
The inclusion of Derek Fisher in Passan’s tweet may amount to something in between a misnomer and a legitimate part of discussions. Fisher has taken an interesting journey to his first taste of major league action in 2017. He was drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB draft, and then again by the Astros in the first round of the 2014 draft.
A left-handed bat, Fisher showed considerable power in the minors, totalling 66 home runs in 378 games between low A ball and Triple-A. In 2017, he slashed .318/.384/.583 in 84 games with Houston’s Triple-A club, but struggled in his first 53 games in the Major Leagues. During that time, he posted a .663 OPS to go along with a 37 percent strikeout rate.
The Houston Astros are entering the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes
Though it’s unclear who brought up Fisher’s name first, it’s pretty easy to see why the Pittsburgh Pirates would want to take a hard look at him. He carried a 60-grade raw power tool going into 2017. His proven game power in Triple-A lends weight to his power potential, and surely has Pirates’ evaluators salivating, perhaps to the point where they can ignore his defensive deficiencies. He is listed as a left-fielder, though he has played both corner outfield spots.
Between this rumor and the previous discussions with the New York Yankees circulating around OF Clint Frazier, it has become painfully clear that the Pittsburgh Pirates are heading towards a shakeup in their outfield. While Andrew McCutchen‘s departure has long been a foregone conclusion, the futures of Gregory Polanco, Austin Meadows and, to a lesser extent, Starling Marte, are now up in the air based on recent trade talk leaks.
Add Kyle Tucker to a potential outfield quagmire. Tucker is the number eight overall prospect in baseball as per MLB Pipeline. He carries a lesser power tool than Fisher with a 55, but a solid 60-rated hit tool. He, too, is a left-handed bat and can play center and right, though his long term future is not in centerfield.
Both Fisher and Tucker would be welcome additions to an offensively-starved Pittsburgh Pirates club. Though Fisher is a very nice piece, Tucker would be a true centerpiece of any deal. It’s hard to see the Astros parting with Tucker, though Fisher is an intriguing bat in his own right.
What about the pitching?
RHP Forrest Whitley is the other “big name” prospect bandied about in Passan’s tweet. Whitley is the Astros’ number two ranked prospect, and the number 36 ranked farmhand overall (again, as per MLB Pipeline).
Whitley has a very nice mix of pitches, with a 65 rated fastball that can touch the upper 90s with good movement. More excitingly, the 6’7″ Whitley has a 60-rated curveball that can peak in the low 80s. The Pittsburgh Pirates are moving, albeit slowly, towards utilizing more curveballs to combat the recent offensive trends towards home runs. We have seen it with Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl, as well as some of the club’s reported targets during the last offseason such as Jose Quintana.
Aside from the named prospects, the Astros’ system looks every bit the part of one that was harvested for trades to push them over the top. However, the key difference between the Astros’ system and, say, the Chicago Cubs’, is that there is plenty of talent left at the top.
If we use Houston’s 2017 trade for Justin Verlander as a guide, we see that the Astros have no clear problem in putting together fair prospect packages for frontline starting pitching talent. The club had no problem trading another top 100 pitching talent in Franklin Perez, as well as solid prospects in OF Daz Cameron (now the Tigers’ number five prospect), and C Jake Rogers (number seven, and the number eight catching prospect overall).
If the Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates start haggling, we could see left-handed bat Colin Moran included in talks. He is the number ninth third base prospect overall. He carries a low-rated power tool (45) but hits at 55 and appeared every bit of major-league ready in his seven games with the Astros last season. With Alex Bregman entrenched at third, Moran is expendable, especially in light of his defensive liabilities. He can also slide over to first place, and play a corner outfield spot.
The Pirates also lack a viable catching prospect in their system, and the Astros have an option with their ninth-ranked prospect backstop Garrett Stubbs. Stubbs profiles as an acceptable fielding catcher — highlighted by a 60-rated arm — that can provide double digit home run potential down the line.
All things considered, the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates line up well as trade partners. The Astros spent a lot of time in baseball purgatory to build their club into a contender. Now, the team is looking to extend that window by any means necessary. If the Pirates want to help them do just that, they too can embark on their own rebuild, though theirs will be jump-started by a solid infusion of talent coming over from the 2017 World Series champions.