Sports

Astros Almost (Kind of Maybe) Pulled off a Big Trade for a Starting Pitcher

Justin Verlandet is nice, but the Astros almost made another major deal for a starting pitcher
Justin Verlandet is nice, but the Astros almost made another major deal for a starting pitcher Photo by Jack Gorman
Gerrit Cole is a 27-year-old starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. For a few brief, glorious minutes on Wednesday, it was nearly universally accepted that Cole was a 27-year-old starting pitcher for the Houston Astros.

Multiple reports had the trade for Cole as being a done deal, the hold up being agreement on what exactly the Astros were going to send to the Pirates. Then came word that there was no trade. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said the Astros were engaged in discussions with multiple teams about possible trades, but didn’t say if there were any talks with the Pirates. The acquisition of Cole would have been very good for the Astros. It would be a major upgrade to a starting rotation that is already one of the best in baseball.

Cole is a five year MLB vet and a former No. 1 draft choice. He threw a four-seam fastball that consistently hit 96-98 when he was in college. His two-seam fastball hit 91-94 mph. He throws an excellent slider. He was only 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA for the Pirates last season, but he’s a workhorse, starting 33 games and throwing 203 innings. He has a 59-42 career record with a 3.50 career ERA, 782 innings pitched in 127 games with 734 career strikeouts.

He throws fast. He throws with command. He eats innings. So just imagine Cole in a rotation with Dallas Kuechel, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers, Jr. Just think about the improvement in this rotation.

But there was no trade.

Maybe the trade was never even discussed and multiple reporters were fed wrong information. Maybe, as with the Zach Britton to the Astros trade last July, the deal was quashed at the last minute. Perhaps an unexpected injury was spotted with Coles or with one of the players who was going to be part of the deal. Maybe this deal is dead forever, or maybe, as with the Justin Verlander last season, the trade will spring back to life.

The Astros attempting this trade is a good thing. It means management realizes that it cannot just stand pat on what happened last year. It’s continued recognition that a team can never have enough good starting pitching — which the Astros discovered last summer when three-fifths of the starting rotation, including Keuchel and McCullers, were on the disabled list. That in turn caused the overuse of the bullpen, and in turn, the bullpen struggled throughout the postseason.

There’s also the fact that Cole is not the only quality starting pitcher available to the Astros. The Tampa Bay Rays, for instance, have made Chris Archer available for trade. And Astros-World-Series punching bag Yu Darvish is available as a free agent — don’t let those World Series starts fool you, Darvish is an excellent pitcher who would provide a big upgrade to the Astros.

It also needs to be stated that the Astros, unlike some teams, are dealing from strength. This team did win the World Series last season. The rotation already consists of two former Cy Young winners in Keuchel and Verlander. McCullers is a fantastic starter when healthy. Collin McHugh was very good when he was healthy. Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock are back for another season. Many teams would kill people to have that rotation. So the Astros don’t have to accept just any deal, or sign just any free agent. So if the Astros end up pulling off a deal for Cole or Archer or Darvish, great, if not, the Astros are still a favorite to repeat as the World Series champs.

The Astros aren’t the Texans. The Astros are a well-run organization full of smart people with smart ideas executing well thought-out plans. The roster is stacked with some of the best players in baseball, and the farm system is incredibly deep. Sure it’s possible to make this team even better. But if the Astros go into this season with the same starting rotation as last year, then there should be no doubt that things will be okay.

Now how much longer until April and Opening Day gets here?
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal