In the Lukewarm Stove earlier today, we discussed the fallout from the non-trade of Gerrit Cole to the Astros earlier this week. The highlights of which is basically the Astros are still unwilling to include their top prospects or outfielder Derek Fisher and the Yankees are still unwilling to include Gleyber Torres.
But in the post at FanRag that spurred that conversation, Jon Heyman included this very interesting throwaway line that caught my eye: “There’s a third mystery team in on Gerrit Cole (beyond the Yankees and Astros) that’s been talking to Pittsburgh lately, as well. The Cubs would make sense, but that is unconfirmed.”
To clear this up/keep us all on the same page, it sounds like there’s two assertions here: 1) there *is* a third, “Mystery Team” in on Gerrit Cole, and 2) It *might* be the Cubs, but is not definitely the Cubs (if that makes sense).
Now, if you allow me to read too much into four words for a moment, I’d like to point out that the way Heyman stated that “but that is unconfirmed,” is interesting. Had Heyman said (or even indicated more clearly) that he was just loosely speculating that the Cubs could make sense (given their clear desire to upgrade the rotation), this would be interesting, but not merit an entire post. But, to me, the way it’s phrased sounds like it’s a rumor he’s heard, but has been unable to confirm with other sources. [Brett: For what it’s worth, that’s how I read it, too.]
UPDATE: Yup, the Cubs Are the Mystery Team:
cubs are a third team that's talked about gerrit cole lately. yanks and astros have more prospects, which may give them an edge. but pirates wouldn't mind getting MLB players back, too.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 12, 2018
Before we go any further, in all likelihood, even if this rumor is true, Cole’s 2018 landing spot will probably be 1. Houston, 2. New York, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. Chicago. Still, given Cole’s impact potential, and the fact that he would very much be a Cubs trade target but for the whole in-division thing, this is worth exploring a little.
So let’s get into it.
As a pitcher, Gerrit Cole makes as much sense for the Cubs as any of the guys they’ve targeted so far. He’s just 27 years old, is only arbitration eligible for the second time right now, and is under cheap team control through the next two seasons. He’s also talented, fairly durable (33 starts, 203.0 IP last season), and pretty clearly has some more untapped upside. All things equal, he’d make the Cubs’ rotation one of the most feared in the game.
But would the Pirates ever trade with the Cubs?
There’s no question that intra-divisional trades are a very difficult thing to pull off. The prospect of helping out an immediate adversary win your division (or watching a young player/prospect blossom into a star) is often too scary for most teams to try. But it’s not always the case, and the Cubs and Pirates have made notable trades in the past (albeit predating this front office).
I’d like to point out that the Pirates and Cubs both happen to have two very sophisticated front offices. Obviously, in some cases, that can make consummating trades difficult, but in this particular case, I think both sides could ignore external perception if they each believed the deal was the best thing for them.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say the Pirates would accept a deal for Cole from the Cubs, with only a slight (i.e. non-prohibitive) acquisition tax (vis a vis the AL Astros and Yankees).
Do the Cubs even have the right pieces to pull it off?
So far, the Astros (Forrest Whitley and Kyle Tucker) and the Yankees (Gleyber Torres) have been unwilling to include their top prospects, and, as such, could not get a deal done. And for what it’s worth, Tucker and Torres are both top ten prospects in all of baseball, while Whitley, the Astros 2016 first-round pick, is considered a very intriguing pitching prospect on the rise, and he may also be a top 10/20 guy when rankings come out. So, yeah, the Cubs don’t have anything close to this sort of prospect power, but maybe they won’t need to.
If the Astros and Yankees are both unwilling to move those guys, who might they be offering instead? Well, from the Yankees, we know that 23-year-old outfielder Clint Frazier (just debuted last season) is on the table, and from the Astros, we know that 24-year-old outfielder Derek Fisher (also debuted last season) is part of the equation, and in this arena, the Cubs can *definitely* compete.
If it’s a young, recently-debuted outfielder the Pirates are looking for, the Cubs could dangle a 23-year-old switch-hitter with power and the ability to play all three spots in Ian Happ (also made his debut last season). Or if it’s Gold Glove caliber defense in center with a great bat against lefties and an improving one against righties they covet, the Cubs can throw 23-year-old Albert Almora’s name into the ring. Frazier and Fisher are both very intriguing guys, but I don’t think it’s unfair at all to include Happ and Almora (especially with their more established big league success) in the same circle.
But there’s a few problems with this.
First … the Pirates have pretty clearly shown that Frazier is *not* enough to land Cole (it’s unclear on Fisher), which means Happ or Almora probably wouldn’t cut it either (and, again, it’s not like the Cubs have the same caliber of prospect pieces to sweeten the deal). Second, not only was someone like Frazier not enough, it was not enough from a team outside the NL Central. In other words, this completely ignores the fact that the price would probably be just a little bit higher for the Cubs than it would be for the Yankees.
And finally, Cole still has two years of team control. The Pirates can hang onto him, and trade him at this deadline, next winter, or next deadline, and still probably get a good return. Or, and this is far less likely, but still possible, they can always extend him. He’s really young and the Pirates have had success extending stars in the past.
In the end, Cole still makes more sense for the Astros and Yankees, but if the Cubs are truly involved as a Mystery Team, the Pirates keep an open mind, and the young outfielder return is on the table, the Cubs have a fighting chance.