When Gerrit Cole was called up to the major leagues back in 2013 by the Pirates, it was met with much fanfare throughout the organization and the fanbase. A first overall pick in the 2011 draft, the UCLA product was an instant success with the Bucs, becoming the ace of the staff after posting 10 wins and 3.28 ERA in 19 starts in 2013. Though injuries held him to only 22 starts in his second season in the league, Cole was able to post a modest 3.65 ERA while winning 11 games. Everything came full circle in that third year and one that would go down in team history. The former Bruin earned his first All-Star appearance, going 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA 202 strikeouts in 32 games. Cole finished a long fourth in the Cy Young Award behind the trio of seasons-for-the-ages of Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw. His season was one that would win the Cy Young in most years. There was hope that the right-handed fireballer would build off his 2015 season, but the rose has yet to fully bloom.
Over the past two seasons, Cole has gone 10-15 while his strikeout rate has gone from almost 25% down to around 20%. His ERA went on a roller coaster ride in 2016 going as low 2.53 before ballooning back up to 3.88 at season’s end. This year has been just the same. After a solid April, Cole was able to get his ERA all the way down to 2.84 following a tremendous start in a 6-1 win against the Washington Nationals where he gave up only 1 run on 3 hits in 7 innings of work. He has allowed one run or less three times so far this season, but the Washington start is the only one where the Pirates scored more than two runs. In fact, the offense has scored two runs or less in 5 of the 12 outings for the right hander. Cole is 0-4 in those starts this season while allowing less than 2 runs in 4 of those outings. Kind of frustrating don’t you think? You can see in his reactions and body language that he has run out of patience with the Pirates. And with rumors circulating that teams like the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, both contenders to win the AL this year, would be interested in the 26-year old right hander. A bigger market could be the shot in the arm his career needs in restoring his all-star status. But to have a chance at possibly moving on from Pittsburgh, it is Cole not the Pirates who hold the cards in that matter.
Obviously Neal Huntington doesn’t want to trade the pitcher he still considers the ace of the staff. And with team control of Cole thru 2019, he can always wait until next season or beyond to trade him. Why deal away a pitcher who ranks in the top three in terms of velocity with his sinker and four-seam fastball? Take note his last three outings, two of which were against the New York Mets, the other against the Atlanta Braves. In those starts, Cole surrendered 16 runs including a career-high 7 runs in the Pirates 12-7 win, a game ironically won by the right hander thanks to his offense bailing him out. He also gave up eight home runs including six to the Mets, three of which were off the bat of Lucas Duda. Home runs have been an issue for Cole all season. He has already given 15 home runs, almost double what he gave up in 2016 in 45 less innings. Why are guys crushing the ball off a Cole? Well, hitters are posting OPS over .940 against his sinker and four-seam, which is the ninth worst fastball this year. Two years ago, it was the second best fastball among starters according to FanGraphs. Now if Cole wants to move on from the Steel City and play under a ownership group who is actually committed to trying to do anything in their power to win a World Series, he needs to figure out along with Ray Searage why opponents are crushing his alleged best pitches. If his ERA does dip back down to normal Cole levels and Huntington gets an offer he can’t refuse, does he pull the trigger on a trade for the ace?
Looking at this from both sides, the Pirates would be worse off in the short run if they decided to do this deal. As it stands right now, Ivan Nova is the only other reliable starter in the rotation until Jameson Taillon returns from his rehab stints, hopefully by next weekend at the earliest. You just can’t trust any pitcher in the back end of the rotation right now. But then you have the problem with keeping Cole and the fact that he has become more and more of a what I would classify as a head case as the season has gone on. And if this team continues to struggle like it has, especially in his starts, the situation is going to get even more toxic for all involved. It is just like with Andrew McCutchen, a fresh start is exactly what Cole needs in his career. Yes, you would want him to stay with the Pirates, but he is going to leave here after the 2019 season anyways. In my opinion, if a deal like the Astros possibly offering their top two prospects is on the table, I would consider making the trade. But I like said before, it is Cole who controls whether he gets his wish out of Pittsburgh.
The Pirates are not going anywhere this season and next year will probably warrant a similar result. Gerrit Cole wants to win, and not only that, be paid. This team can’t do either of those things for the young man, at least not with this current ownership. Hamstringing a player that clearly has run out of patience with your organization is a terrible thing that a lot of owners do to players. Just ask Cutch about it. If Cole stays in Pittsburgh, he is going to endure a low run production, something he would not have to worry about in Houston or New York. The old saying is if you love something set it free. Huntington is not going to like trading Cole, but it is best for business for both sides.