As already noted in comments here, reports out of New York have the Pirates and Yankees discussing a trade to send right-hander Gerrit Cole to the Bronx. The Pirates supposedly would receive outfield prospect Clint Frazier, who’s semi-expendable now that the Yankees have added Giancarlo Stanton. The Bucs also want a near-major league ready starter. MLBTR suggests that right-hander Chance Adams most closely fits that description in the Yankees’ system, although there’s no indication that he’s being discussed.
I’m always very suspicious of trade rumors originating in New York, partly because the Yankees have a habit of planting stories to try to help them in negotiations. We found that out with A.J. Burnett. This one seems fairly plausible, though. A more typical NY-originating rumor would have Cole going to the Yankees for Jacoby Ellsbury, with the Pirates throwing in Mitch Keller.
So, in case there’s anything to this, Frazier has always ranked fairly high on prospect lists. Coming into 2017, over the last three years Baseball America ranked him 48, 44 and 38; MLB.com 53, 27 and 24; and Baseball Prospectus 89, 53 and 16. (He saw enough time with the Yankees this year that I don’t think he’s eligible for these lists any more.) He’s always hit well in the minors, but hasn’t quite dominated, with strikeouts being plentiful. This year in AAA, in 74 games he hit 256/344/473. He did cut his K rate to 22%, lower than his career rate of 25%. With the Yankees, in 39 games he hit 231/268/448, while striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances.
Adams, who like Frazier is 23, is the Yankees’ #4 prospect on BA’s recently released list. He throws 92-97 mph, with a plus slider. His other two pitches are fringy. He spent most of this year in AA, making six late-season starts in AAA. Between the two he had a 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 8.1 K/9.
Assuming this report is accurate, it sounds like the Pirates are focusing on retooling rather than rebuilding, with a view toward contending in 2019 at the latest. I’m not sure I see the sense in insisting on a major league ready pitcher, as the Pirates are already deep in those. Of course, it could be that they have no faith in the pitchers in whom they’ve professed so much faith during recent years. In any event, they’d be best served simply by going after the best talent they can get. Then again, the only Yankee pitching prospect ranked above Adams by BA is Justus Sheffield, who’s at #3. But there’s nothing that says they have to get a pitcher back, unless they really have no faith in guys like Steve Brault, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham, which may be the case.
The other concern I’d have with a deal like this is the possibility that the Pirates intend to keep Andrew McCutchen, in whom there’s been little trade interest, for the season and leave Frazier stuck in AAA. I’ve never bought the theory that “another year in AAA won’t hurt him.” I think it actually does sometimes. There’s also the problem that the Pirates, in contrast to, say, the Cards, have shown very little skill at transitioning prospects to the majors. This is just another reason why a full rebuild is their best option.