Few pitchers were impacted as negatively by the Great Home Run Spike as Gerrit Cole. His HR/9 shot from 0.54 in 2016 to 1.37 last season, which was the main culprit behind his nearly 50-point increase in ERA. Cole improved his strikeout and walk rates in his age-26 season, adding a full strikeout to his K/9, and in turn shaved 21 points off his xFIP. Most importantly, the right-hander managed to avoid the injury bug after missing the end of 2016 with an elbow ligament injury, exceeding 200 innings for the second time in his career -- Cole was one of just 15 major-league arms to reach 200 innings in 2017. The issues with the long ball may very well persist, but that's going to be the case with a lot of talented pitchers in today's landscape. Health remains the biggest concern, but Cole has a case as an SP2 in mixed leagues following the move to Houston as (believe it or not) it is a significant park upgrade.
Cole relied heavily on his fastball in 2017 with Pittsburgh, but the Astros feel he can benefit from throwing more offspeed stuff, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. Manager A.J. Hinch stressed there won't be an overhaul, but rather a "tweak" in pitch usage for Cole, who surrendered a career-high 31 home runs in 2017 -- 18 off his fastball. Hinch feels the key is to get a good game plan in front of Cole, which could mean fewer fastballs in favor of his slider and changeup.
Cole agreed to a one-year, $6.75 million deal with the Pirates on Friday, avoiding arbitration, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune reports. It seemed that Cole, who receives a $3 million raise this offseason, was on the move to Houston earlier this week, but the report ended up being inaccurate. Of course, talks are likely still ongoing, so a trade could still happen. Cole is under team control for two more seasons, which makes him a highly-attractive commodity on the trade market, so the Pirates are rightfully holding out for a significant return package.
Contrary to a prior report, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Wednesday that a trade to acquire Cole from the Pirates is not done and not imminent, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports. Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported that the two teams have reached an agreement for Cole, so this deal is still likely to get done, and might even already be done, despite what Luhnow told the local beat reporter. There has been no word of which specific young players will be going to Pittsburgh. Assuming the deal eventually gets done, Cole's fantasy value won't be significantly impacted, as the expected gains in wins will likely be offset by the move to the American League.
The Pirates reached an agreement Wednesday to trade Cole to the Astros for an undisclosed package, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports. Cole will strengthen one of the top staffs in the majors, as the Astros now employ Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel (foot) and the former Pirate. During the 2017 season, Cole posted a 4.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, while holding a 196:55 K:BB over 203 innings (33 starts). Although the right-hander saw improvement in strikeout and walk rates, his HR/9 jumped from 0.54 in 2016 to 1.37 last season. Looking ahead to 2018, Cole will likely slide in as Houston's third starter, but he's a fine addition as an SP2 in 15-team leagues. This trade increases Cole's upside in the wins department, but the move to the American League may offset those potential gains. His salary arbitration case is unresolved, and the Astros wanted to acquire him in time to file at their number before Friday's deadline, rather than inherit a figure from the Pirates.
Cole has been the subject of trade talks between Pittsburgh and Houston, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports. Astros owner Jim Crane backed up that report, telling Alyson Footer of MLB.com that the club is "actively pursuing a high-end starter," adding that the organization is willing to dip into its prospect-rich farm system. The Passan report, which was confirmed by Jon Morosi of MLB.com, indicated one name mentioned was outfielder Derek Fisher, but the Pirates would almost certainly need outfielder Kyle Tucker or right-handed pitcher Forrest Whitley as the linchpin of any deal. The Astros are looking to shore up an already good starting staff that boasts Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel at the top of the rotation.