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Scattered Thoughts on the Gerrit Cole Trade

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Detroit Tigers

How did you feel last Wednesday, when it was first reported Gerrit Cole was on the move?

I was excited, honestly. It appeared the Pirates had chosen a direction. Given the Astros were involved, I assumed the Pirates would be getting a decent enough deal, with some exciting players headed back this way.

I was surprised, though, how OK I was with the idea of dealing Cole, once it appeared to be a reality.

Then on Saturday I was groggy from a nice late-afternoon/early-evening nap, if you were wondering, and I didn’t have time for speculation. The exact, official terms of the trade that had gone down were already available to me. No uncertainty, and, unfortunately, no excitement.

Did I — did many of us — overrate Cole’s trade value, as Kurt touched on? I always assumed Cole was viewed a lot more favorably outside of Pittsburgh, with outsiders more easily seeing a talented, front-line, maybe-not-quite-an-ace-but-pretty-damn-good pitcher, not being subjected to the ups and downs of daily or weekly life with Cole.

Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps Cole’s issues have raised a few more red flags than I thought. Maybe it wasn’t just Pirates fans complaining the team’s best pitcher wasn’t the best pitcher, period.

But I suspect Cole will be paid handsomely come free agency, and I wonder if the Pirates couldn’t have held out for a better deal.

— Was I shooting a little too high?

Anecdotally, it seems it takes more to acquire top prospects these days. Teams, properly, place a high value on their best youngsters, probably more than in the past. Jeff Bagwell-for-Larry Anderson deals don’t happen anymore, and we’ve known that for a while now.

But is two years of Gerrit Cole really not worth, say, Kyle Tucker? Apparently it’s not, and that’s a little disappointing.

It’s weird, though, because it’s not like big-name prospects haven’t been moved. Lucas Giolito was traded (at a higher value than he has now). Yoan Moncada was traded, albeit for a better starter than Cole. The Cubs have helped enrich several systems with their trades over the last few years.

The market for top prospects has moved, and it’s still moving. I’m just not sure what to make of it anymore.

— Did we learn much about the Pirates’ direction?

I’m sure this will be discussed quite a bit in the next couple months, but, given the medium-term type of return, I’m not sure this trade is the equivalent to a “For Sale” sign on the Pirates clubhouse, with Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Francisco Cervelli and anyone else not expected to help, say, the 2020 Pirates headed out the door. I sort of hope that’s the case, but I don’t know.

I expected more of a reload than an all-out rebuild, but I’m surprised the Pirates got three players who should be on the 2018 roster.

— If you think the Cole return is underwhelming, boy, oh boy, will you be disappointed by an Andrew McCutchen trade.

— It will be interesting to monitor Cole’s progress in Houston. He’s had troubles with his secondary pitches at times, and that’s something Charlie Morton really got to harness with the Astros. This could also be a bit of a blind spot in the Pirates’ development of pitchers. I wish Cole success, but it would be disconcerting to see him suddenly jump a level in a different organization.

— This was the chance to add, if not star-level talent, an impact player to help push this next generation of Pirates teams. The Pirates didn’t get that, and it’s not going to come from trading anyone else they’d look to move relatively soon.

Also, the Pirates already have a bunch of average starters around the diamond. It’s not a bad thing to collect solid players, but those are easier to find, and the impact of possible future trades of McCutchen and Harrison may be lessened.

This may be obvious, but it’s even more imperative Starling Marte reverses his troubling course, Gregory Polanco gets healthy and plays much better, much more consistently, and that Austin Meadows pans out. Without that higher level of contribution, it will be tough to put together a playoff-caliber team.

— Attendance should be bad in 2018, but I’m not sure trading Cole is going to affect that. Winning is the main driver of attendance, oddball situations like Tampa Bay’s excepted. People weren’t going to show up to watch Cole pitch for a losing team, and they won’t stay home on principle, at least in great numbers, should the Pirates somehow be successful after trading popular players.