It’s been slower than expected since our last hot stove report in late December, but there was a significant trade made on Saturday, with the defending World Series champion Astros adding to their starting rotation, picking up SP Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. The other big name who solidified his future plans in the last couple of weeks was RP Wade Davis, who signed with his new team.
The Cole trade is the big news of this period. There were reports during the week that the Astros and Pirates had reached an agreement on a deal for him, but it turned out those stories were not true. On Saturday, though, the trade was finalized and officially announced by the teams. In exchange for Cole, the Astros sent Ps Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, 3B Colin Moran and minor league OF Jason Martin to the Pirates.
Cole was a top prospect for the Pirates when he first came up, but he hasn’t lived up to the potential people thought he had in his first five seasons in the league. His best season came in 2015, when he posted a 2.60 ERA with 202 strikeouts in 208 innings. In the two years since then, his ERA has steadily increased to 3.88 in 2016 and 4.26 last year, both career worsts at the time. In the Astros rotation, barring injuries, he will likely be the No. 4 starter in the rotation behind SPs Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. That should take some pressure off of him as the Astros won’t be relying on him to be one of their top pitchers. He is, however, going from the National League to the American League — which means he’ll be facing designated hitters instead of opposing pitchers — and going to a more hitter-friendly ballpark at Minute Maid Park as opposed to PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
For the Pirates, the centerpiece of the deal is probably Musgrove. He has a career 4.52 ERA in 49 major-league appearances in the regular season, but he excelled in the second half of the season after the Astros moved him to the bullpen. In 23 games of relief, he posted a 1.44 ERA compared to a 6.12 mark in 15 starts last season. The Pirates’ rotation isn’t as deep as the Astros’, though, which should give Musgrove another chance to prove himself as a starter in the middle or back of the Pittsburgh rotation. Moran hasn’t had much experience in the majors yet in his young career, but he should get a chance to be the Pirates’ starting third baseman coming out of spring training — a chance he wouldn’t get in Houston with Alex Bregman the long-term option at third there. Feliz is just a middle reliever with a 5.13 career ERA who can serve as a long man when needed.
The big recent free agent signing was Davis inking a three-year, $52 million contract with the Rockies. The veteran closer is coming off a season in which he set a career high of 32 saves (in 33 opportunities) with the Cubs, but his 2.30 ERA was his worst mark since 2013. He struck out 79 batters — the most since 2014 — in 58.2 innings. He takes over the closer role from free-agent RP Greg Holland, who has not yet signed on with a new team, but there are rumors about him potentially going to the Cubs.
Although the team has not yet officially announced the signings, the Mets have reportedly signed a couple of veterans, OF Jay Bruce and 1B Adrian Gonzalez. Bruce’s deal is reportedly worth $39 million over three years. Gonzalez, who the Dodgers traded to the Braves earlier this winter and was subsequently released by Atlanta, signed a one-year deal, pending a physical, that will pay him the league minimum as the Braves are on the hook for the rest of the $21.5 million he is owed for the 2018 season under his original contract.
In addition to Holland, other notable free agents who remain unsigned include SPs Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb, along with hitters J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. There could be more players traded before the start of the season, as well, with names like Orioles SS Manny Machado, Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen, Rays SP Chris Archer, and Marlins SS Starlin Castro, OF Christian Yelich and C J.T. Realmuto all potentially on the trade block.