So far, it’s been a snoozer of a hot stove season, but it appears that things may be heating up on both the free agent and trade fronts. The Pittsburgh Pirates broke the ice after they traded Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for right-handed pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, third baseman Colin Moran and outfielder Jason Martin.
Gerrit Cole Should Bounce Back with Astros
Clearly, the Astros believe they can build on their 2017 World Championship season with the acquisition of Gerrit Cole. He will slot in as their No. 3 pitcher behind Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, with Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton rounding out the expected starting rotation. The Astros also have Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, giving them one of the deeper staffs in MLB.
Cole was one of just 15 starting pitchers to hurl more than 200 innings during the 2017 season, which immediately boosts his value a bit for 2018. He finished with a record of 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 8.69 strikeouts per nine innings. Cole pitched better than his surface stats suggest, though. He had a FIP of 4.08 and an xFIP of 3.81, indicating that he fell victim to the long ball. Indeed, his HR/9 IP of 1.37 was, by far, the highest of his career. His previous high was 0.72 in 2013, his rookie season. For home runs as a percentage of batted balls, Cole had a rate of 15.5 percent, well above his career mark of 10 percent.
Cole’s new home stadium, Minute Maid Park, was ranked 14th in HRs allowed last season, higher than the 23rd-ranked PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Oddly enough, Minute Maid Park is one of the few in MLB that Cole has never pitched in, so we don’t even have a small sample to consider. However, given that Cole’s 2017 HR numbers appear to be an outlier, the park factor isn’t enough to put much of a dent in his Fantasy value. The only reason for caution in drafting Cole this season is the way he seemed to fade during the season’s final two months.
Over the seasons first four months, Cole pitched 133.2 innings and compiled a record of 9-7 with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. During the season’s final two months, he threw 69.1 innings and was 3-5 with a 4.80 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. However, he was also a victim of run support at times during the season. Overall, the Pirates produced 4.12 runs per game in 2017; only two teams generated less offense. Meanwhile, the Astros were MLB’s top run-producing club at 5.53 runs per game. So the outlook for Cole in 2018 is fairly rosy as long as his HR numbers come down as expected and the Astros again deliver solid run support. In fact, Cole could end up as a Top 20 pitcher this season and is worth reaching for in drafts.
Two Arms and Two Lottery Tickets
Among the four players Pittsburgh received in the deal with Houston, only pitcher Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz come with Major League experience. Musgrove made 15 starts for the Astros in 2017 and compiled a record of 4-8 with an ERA of 6.12 and a 1.51 WHIP. He was generally gassed by the fifth or sixth inning as evident in his ERA during those innings – 7.82 in the fifth and 8.74 in the sixth.
Once he was moved to the bullpen, a different pitcher emerged, as Musgrove thrived in short-term use. Overall, he made 23 relief appearances and pitched 31.1 innings with a 1.44 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. Musgrove was ticketed to work out of the Astros’ bullpen this season, but the move to Pittsburgh and his prior dominance in the minor leagues as a starter will likely prompt the Pirates to give him another shot at starting. If he can control the long ball better and continue to rack up decent strikeout numbers, Musgrove could be a useful Fantasy pitcher as a streamer or matchup play. He’s just 25 years old and entering his prime pitching years, so his value could increase if he is able to develop some endurance on the mound.
Michael Feliz is already entrenched as a relief pitcher, a role he’s had for the last three seasons in Houston. Last season, Feliz made 46 appearances and tossed 48 innings with an ERA of 5.63 and a 1.56 WHIP. Feliz is still working on his overall command and control as evident in his 4.13 BB/9 IP. All those runners on base set the table for the eight home runs Feliz allowed (1.5 HR/9IP), which is what really boosted his numbers. Unfortunately, Feliz doesn’t appear to have any Fantasy value, especially since he doesn’t appear to have a closer’s makeup.
Colin Moran was injured for a fair portion of 2017. However, he had made some adjustments to his swing early in the season that seemed to capitalize on previously untapped power. He socked 18 home runs in just 338 PA at Triple-A and maintained a .308 batting average that was far better than anything he had previously shown. There was no way he was going to break in with the stacked Astros lineup but he has a chance at the third base job with the Pirates if he continues to hit. He has no Fantasy value as yet but is worth monitoring to see if he hits his way into a promotion to the show.
Outfielder Jason Martin spent some time in Double-A last season, where he put up respectable numbers for a 22-year-old. He is still several years from the Majors and may or may not make it there depending on whether he continues to develop. Dynasty league owners may have some interest in Martin as depth, but that’s about it.