Astros: Revisiting the Gerrit Cole trade from 2018
Time to use the benefit of hindsight to reevaluate the Gerrit Cole trade.
Now that Gerrit Cole‘s time in Houston has come to a close, it’s a good opportunity to take a look back at the trade that brought him to the Astros in the first place. On January 13, 2018. Jeff Luhnow sent Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin to Pittsburgh in exchange for Cole.
We all know how brilliant Cole was in his two-year run in Houston. He managed two Top-Five finishes in the Cy Young Award voting and led the majors in strikeouts per nine innings in both seasons. He went 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA in 65 regular season starts.
He set a new franchise record for strikeouts in a season, earned a pair of All-Star appearances and one Top-10 MVP finish as well. Cole also went 5-2 in the postseason with a 2.17 ERA. Across his two Astros seasons, he provided a total of 11.9 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference.
What They Gave Up
Musgrove was the most established player they gave up. He was 25 at the time of the trade and had spent parts of two seasons in the majors, pitching to a 4.52 ERA in 25 starts and 24 relief appearances.
Since the trade, he’s made 50 starts and one relief appearance for the Pirates and gone 17-21 with a 4.28 ERA. He’s been slightly better than he was with the Astros, but has only managed an ERA+ of 96, meaning he’s been roughly four percent below league average. By contrast, Cole put up a 164 ERA+ in his two seasons in Houston, indicating he was 64 percent better than average.
Moran was blocked in Houston, so letting him go wasn’t all that painful. He’d only appeared in 16 games with the Astros across two seasons and hit .206/.270/.382 and compiled a total -0.1 WAR. The former top prospect was also 25 at the time of the trade.
He’s largely been an everyday third baseman for the Pirates, playing in 293 games over the past two seasons and hitting a combined .277/.331/.419 with 24 homers, 49 doubles and 138 RBIs. He’s only compiled 0.7 WAR in that time, partially thanks to below average defense which includes a .938 fielding percentage at third base in 2019.
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Feliz always had a big arm but had difficulty limiting baserunners in Houston, pitching to a 5.13 ERA in 98 relief appearances. He struck out 172 batters in 121 innings but allowed a 1.364 WHIP. He was 24 at the time of the trade.
His first year in Pittsburgh didn’t go well, as he worked to a career high 5.66 ERA and saw a dip in his strikeout rate. But he rebounded in 2019 to post a 3.99 ERA in 58 appearances, allowing significantly fewer hits despite a higher rate of home runs. He’s compiled -0.3 WAR and an 87 ERA+ with the Pirates.
The outfielder Martin had only reached Double-A with the Astros before being included in the trade at age 22. He mastered Double-A in 2018 and hit .259/.312/.419 in Triple-A in 2019 before getting the call to the big leagues.
He played in 20 games and totaled 40 plate appearances with the Pirates, hitting .250/.325/.306. His power numbers have declined since he hit 23 homers in 2016, and his 2019 season ended in early September with a dislocated shoulder.
So far, the players the Astros gave up have performed at or slightly below league average. So in exchange for players whose performance is easily replaceable, Luhnow got two years of a bona fide ace. That’s a pretty good trade when you look at it from that angle.
Of course the Pirates still have control over the four players they got, so it’s entirely possible they could put up better numbers and make the deal look a little better from the Pirates’ perspective. But even if that happens, I would think Luhnow would be happy to make that trade over again, and you have to wonder if the Pirates would like a do-over.
The final wrinkle is the Astros will get a draft pick as compensation for losing Cole to the Yankees. That would be the final piece to this puzzle, so we’ll have to see who they draft and how that player pans out. It may take several years for us to fully evaluate the outcome of this trade, but for now it looks like a solid win for Houston.