Williams: If the Pirates Wish to Contend, Gerrit Cole Would Be Their Most Important Player

At the start of every offseason, I like to write a small reminder/disclaimer about rumors. Most rumors, whether they are trade rumors or free agent rumors, follow the basic principle of a team or two teams expressing interest in a player or a trade. Those simple rumors, which are just reporting on the standard initial contact from teams, get taken to the extremes.

As far as the Pirates go, we got our first trade rumor yesterday, with the Twins talking to the Pirates about Gerrit Cole. The rumor is below, and provides a great example of why the disclaimer is needed.

That rumor says that the Twins have talked with the Pirates about Cole. It doesn’t say that the Pirates are trading Cole. It doesn’t say that the Twins made an offer for Cole. It doesn’t say that the Twins would even be interested in trading for Cole after asking about him.

That small amount of basic information is enough to start all of the above discussions. It gets people writing articles about the Pirates shopping Cole, or wondering what the Pirates would get from the Twins, and so on. I know this process too well. When this site was a free site, with revenue based solely on advertising, we jumped at the opportunity to get the most out of every trade rumor, even the smallest ones. This process is so widespread because trade rumors sell and bring in the biggest traffic. So you see a constant trend of the smallest rumor getting blown up to something it was never reported to be.

That’s not to say that rumors can’t develop. We might hear a rumor down the line that other teams are asking about Cole. We might also hear a rumor that the Pirates are listening to offers. And it might go further to say that the Pirates are in discussions to trade Cole to a specific team.

But we haven’t heard those rumors yet, and this simple rumor doesn’t predict those future rumors. That’s the disclaimer with rumors. Most of them are like this one, just saying that a team asked about a player. That’s a standard practice across baseball, where teams will inquire about literally every free agent and every player who has a remote chance of being traded. Until something more concrete comes out, it’s best to just take the comment at face value, and assume nothing will come from it, since nothing typically comes from those rumors.

Gerrit Cole’s Importance to the Pirates

That disclaimer out of the way, I’m not going to discuss Cole and the Twins. Instead, I want to look at the idea of trading Cole, and specifically, his importance to the Pirates. Cole is not a guy who is untouchable, but that depends on the situation.

If the Pirates are planning on contending in 2018, they can’t trade Cole. Their biggest issue in 2017 was that they had one of the worst offenses in baseball. I see room for improvement in 2018, but not enough to take them from one of the worst offenses to one of the best. They’re still going to need their pitching staff to carry them and make up for a poor offense.

The starting pitching was slightly above league average last year, which wasn’t enough to make up for the offense. That included league average production from Cole and Jameson Taillon, who are both capable of top of the rotation stuff.

In order to contend, the Pirates will need Cole and Taillon to pitch like top of the rotation guys. They could use one more top of the rotation guy, but that’s mostly because you can’t count on pitchers to stay healthy and consistent from year-to-year. If they get that production from Cole and Taillon, they will be on the right track to being contenders, and offsetting a weaker offense.

The problem with trading Cole and trying to contend is that he’s their best chance for top of the rotation production. They’re estimated to pay him $7.5 M in 2018. They won’t get a top of the rotation guy for that price. A reclamation project will most likely cost eight figures. A non-reclamation guy will cost a lot more per year, or a lot in prospects, plus the same type of cost.

In theory, the Pirates could trade Cole, then add someone else to replace him as a top of the rotation guy. That would allow them to add to the farm system, while also avoiding losing anything from the majors. But if that’s an ideal situation, then you’d wonder why the team trading for Cole wouldn’t just add the alternative option instead.

If the Pirates are going for it, then they need to keep Cole. Which means that no matter how many teams ask about him, it wouldn’t make sense to trade him.

If they aren’t going for it, then it would make sense to shop him around and trade him. There’s no point keeping him around in a rebuilding year when he’d only have one more year of control remaining after the season.

It’s been written a lot that what happens with Andrew McCutchen will signal what the Pirates intend to do in 2018. If they keep him, it will signal they are going for it. If they trade him, it will signal they could be looking to rebuild. Gerrit Cole is in the same situation, and maybe more than McCutchen. I could see a scenario where the Pirates could trade McCutchen and still try to contend in 2018. But I find that much more difficult when considering how badly this team needs pitching, and how difficult it would be to replace Cole’s upside on the team.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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My too many beers too early comment:
Bucs offer Cutch, Glasnow, and a SS prospect for Stanton and some cash.

Why Fish would do it: Only committed to Cutch for a year. He is a FLA guy that would fill some seats. Glasnow still has upside. SS prospects are always good to stock up on. Unload Stanton.

Why Bucs would: Unload Cutch. Stanton would be cheaper this year (I think). Really only a 3 yr commitment cuz he can opt out in 2020 (which he would likely do) so the financial hit wouldn’t be suicide. So it’d be Stanton, Marte, GP, Bell as core of lineup til 2020. They have several SS prospects. And Keller can be their focus.

Will it happen? Nope. Nope. And…nope.


Tim I think the key there is whether Cole can return to form and live up to his potential of being a top guy. I agree he is likely their best shot at delivering such results because there’s not many front line starters making $7.5 million.


Even giving Cole an injury pass for 2016 the fact is since 2015 Cole’s whole has been less than the sum of his parts. He should be St. Searage’s number one project this off season and ST. Treat Cole like a reclamation project and rebuild him.

Scott K

Happy Thanksgiving fellow Pirates fans! I’m thankful the Pirates will go into 2018 with Cole on the mound and Cutch in CF. I will all but guarantee, barring injury, this will be the case.


That is a bold prediction. The first 2.5 years of Cole were outstanding with a rating of a 1/2 SP. The last 2 were pedestrian for someone with his talent and pitch mix and probably at best a 2/3 rating. Do the Pirates wait to see if he can continue to erode his value or take what they can get during this off-season. Big spending teams like Boston, Texas, and others would love to have Cole to start the season.

The Twins are doing the smart thing, knowing that the price goes way up around the trading deadline, so try now. And, they also have a lot of International money. So, Cole for at least two of their best prospects, and $2.5 mil of their International stash, placing the Pirates at over $5 mil – well above the Yankees and Texas. Can they get 2 or 3 of Maitan, Del Rosario, Severino, Gutierrez, Negret, Contreras?

Scott K

I feel confident in my prediction because I believe NH thinks this team can compete for playoffs. He won’t dismantle it, even if it’s the right thing to do.


I don’t really feel the Pirates need Gerrit Cole to contend. If he pitches like he has the past two years it won’t make a difference either way. Another year of Taillon, Williams and Kuhl progression + add in Nova, Brault, Glasnow, Kingham, etc. you will probably get similar results. Cole had one dominant year and many could argue he wasn’t even a top 3 pitcher on the staff last year. Now if they feel the Gerrit Cole of 3 seasons ago will show back up then yeah, can’t trade him. But if they aren’t predicting similar results slightly better than last year, then I would move him. I don’t think you will suffer at the major league level this year any worse than last year if you do.


Happy Thanksgiving to all. The Pirates need to identify their needs and proceed accordingly. They have lots of bucks available for signing International Prospects including the former Braves. Those players have 6 weeks to sign with another team, but if we are not on the ground making contacts with their agents right now, we are already way behind.


If the Pirates wish to contend…they wouldn’t be the Pirates! It’s clear that for whatever reason they can’t/won’t spend what is necessary to contend and it is also clear at this point that their talent level simply doesn’t match the Yankees,Dodgers, Astros,Cubs, etc.and isn’t likely to in the foreseeable future…If they really wanted to contend they’d look into signing JD Martinez and Josh Donaldson, but they will never ever spend that kind of money….Seems clear Cutch and Cole are gone at the end of their current contracts too…..

Scott K

I just read SI’s MLB Power Rankings, and they have the Tigers and Giants as the two worst teams currently. If only these two teams had spent more money on salaries they surely would be contenders.

Don’t let the FACT it’s the best teams at drafting and developing talent who win the most affect your irrational judgement.


The Giants have three recent WS championships to console themselves with….they will be back soon..

Scott K

Only if they draft and develop better than the competition.


It would probably be more accurate to say MadBum has those recent WS titles. The Giants we’re along for the ride.


He had a lot do with it, but no team wins WS titles – let alone multiple ones in a short period of time – with just one guy, no matter how good he is. Pence, Crawford, Sandoval, Posey, etc. all contributed in very significant ways.


Cole will be a great pitcher…it just won’t be in a Pirates uniform. He needs a player directly on the team who competes as he does (aka AJ Burnett). Dodgers sending him uniform size questions daily. West coast kid will thrive as the 3 in that rotation.


If the Twins offer a deal for Cole that includes that #1 pick from 2 years go – the OFer from a Western PA high school – I cannot remember his name, but that kid is a hitter with power potential. If I am the Pirates, getting him in the deal is where that conversation starts….


Alex Kirilloff


Yes, that is the guy. I wanted the Pirates to draft him 2 years ago – but Twins nabbed him and we ended up with a DH in the first round…


Cole is important to the Pirates – when he is pitching at the level that expected of the #1 overall pick. However, that has only happened once in his career – as far as an entire season of a performance consistent with being the ace and #1 starter – that was 3 years ago. Since, then, he’s been a huge disappointment and underachiever. For someone with his velocity and supposed stuff, he gets hit hard and often – and he surrenders a LOT of HRs.

If some team wants to offer 2-3 top notch position player prospects and a young, major league ready starting pitching prospect, I’d be all ears. Cole will never re-sign with the Pirates, so why keep him? Get what you can for him…getting another starting pitcher with a 4.00 ERA should not be hard to find.

Zachary N

Cole doesn’t have to be the 2.65 era guy he was a couple years ago, but if he can be a 3.00 – 3.30 guy that’s huge.

I’m optimistic that Taillon, Kuhl, and Williams all take a step forward. Nova? Who knows… he is who I’d be looking to trade. Try to get a solid arm for the pen and a prospect back.


So, whaddya think the Bucs could get for Cole from the Twins?

Jeff Rhodes

I don’t disagree with your conclusion, but it’s based heavily on the likelihood of Cole pitching like he did three seasons ago rather than the last two.

The other side of the argument is that a position player is far less prone to the sort of fluctuations you see from pitchers in general and Cole in particular. Rather than hoping Cole reverts to form, I’d be more inclined to assume he won’t and trade him for a position player — let’s say Sano, just for the hell of it — while he still has the cachet of a potential ace.

If he has a great season, the worst you can say is it was an even trade. But if he’s no better than he’s been the last two seasons, you’re getting a huge return for a guy who’s not much more likely to win on any given night than several other options the PIrates already have.

Kerry Writtenhouse

I would add, that IF they won’t add payroll for next year, he may be the best chip to trade to upgrade the offense. Granted, they don’t have anyone that can replace him, but it is where they are deepest.


Uummmmmm, Gerrit Cole hasn’t been very good for a year and a half, that is not irreplaceable, if you get a strong deal for him, you trade him.

Kerry Writtenhouse

I would trade him. I used too strong a word describing him. We have the depth to replace him, moreso than Cutch and Rivero.

Blaine Huff

Best chip: Rivero.


Outside of the whole run scored is the same as a run saved argument, they also certainly don’t have anyone to replace Cutch’s offense.

Regardless, the Pirates won’t be able to legitimately compete without either of these guys.

Blaine Huff

Agreed…however, I’m a proponent of the very stupid idea of trading Cutch for prospects and signing Bruce. I think the money would play out about the same, it would give the Bucs one or two more guys to dream on, provide long-term insurance against Meadows possibly not being ready/healthy or Polanco not excelling…oh, and I think Bruce’s bat brings a lot more offense to PNC.


Not dumb at all, although I’d rather the acquired player be at literally any other position except for 1B.

Blaine Huff

If we’re, hypothetically, dipping into the free agent mar to stay in the Cutch price range ($13-$15M), I think the only two real choices are Bruce and Todd Frazier.

Bruce, I think is more of a sure thing, Frazier would definitely fill a massive hole.


Neil Walker is projected to get something like 3/$39m and is better than both of those players.

I’d even take a chance on a Jonathan Lucroy bounce-back if it was less than two years.


Walker comes with the “if he is healthy” tag line.


And that’s why you get a player with eight consecutive season’s of at least 2 WAR for half the cost of Mike Moustakas.


Walker’s history of back troubles worry me.

Blaine Huff

You have always loved your Walker…and I defended the trade to the Mets…hahaha….there was my defense of the indefensible! 🙂

Neil would be a nice get, but I don’t see him having a position unless we’re sliding Harrison over to third or trading him. Trading, I can see…over to third doesn’t make a lot of sense because I think his value is largely tied to him being a middle infielder…putting that bat at third might close the hole the Pirates have there, but he’d be a league-average (at best) swinger from that position. Trading? It might be a crowded market at that position…I can’t see the Pirates getting more than salary relief.

As well, I worry about Neil’s health…he’s always been a bit fragile. And, considering the words he had for the Pirates when he was railroaded out of town, I’m not too certain he’d even pick up the phone if the Pirates were calling.

Frazier, I think, would be nice. He plays solid defense and hits for the position. I do worry the drop in average might be a sign of things to come, though…and I’m a tad concerned that he’d get signed and, BAM, Kang gets a visa.

FWIW, MLBTR is predicting 3/39 for Bruce and 3/33 for Frazier.


Can Walker play 3rd? J Hay is the better 2nd baseman defensively. Walker – Freeze make a nice platoon.


hot take: Adam Frazier is better than Jay Bruce.

But the overall the concept of “trade McCutchen and throw McCutchen’s money at something else” is definitely worth thinking about.

For example, i’d potentially be in favor of trading cutch for prospect(s), and signing Lorenzo Cain to the 4 yr / 17 million per year deal that fangraphs projects.

Cain and Cutch project for similar WAR for similar prices in 2018. As long as Cain is ~league average at age 36 (and 1 WAR above league average [3 WAR] in 2018), that deal would return a considerable amount of surplus value while adding to the future via the McCutchen-for-prospect trade and not subtracting from the 2018 team.


I think Bruce is the better RF of the 3. Him, Cutch and Frazier. I’m done with Polanco. Unless he looks different in ST, he becomes my 4th OF.

Blaine Huff

Are we talking about the same Jay Bruce who’s mashed 69 HRs, driven in 200, and put up an .824 OPS in the last two seasons?

I like Frazier, but I don’t see him as even close to the talent level of Bruce.


This take would be along the spectrum of believing Frazier is #actually a plus defender in either COF position and Bruce is one of the worst in the game.

*Maybe* you could squint and see that difference in defensive value making up for the clear disparity in offense.


if the way that you’re going to value a player is HR, RBI, and OPS, then we will fundamentally disagree on how good Bruce is or is not. Fair enough!

Blaine Huff

I’ll go this far…you give me a line-up of 8 starters averaging 35 HRs, 100 RBIs, and with an .824 OPS and we’ll see where the team finishes in the standings at the end of the season.


Do they all have to bunt and steal bases? This sounds like one of my Earl Weaver Baseball teams back in the Commodore 64 days.


well yeah, but my team of eight francisco lindors would crush your team of eight jay bruces 🙂

Blaine Huff

So would eight Trouts, but there is a matter of cost. Lindor on the open market would cost just a tad more than Bruce…and by tad, probably 50% more, conservatively.


Your argument isn’t helped by using wOBA, either.


you were more or less right about it being about Bruce being an awful defender, and me thinking Frazier is an actual viable corner outfielder.

i really should have just said “i’m afraid about Bruce’s probability of providing seasons > 1.5 WAR over the life of his contract” instead of involving my mancrush on Adam Frazier.

as you can see in my edit to my hot take, i’d much rather them take a stab at Lo Cain if trading Cutch is on the table.

We agree about Neil Walker and Lucroy as well.

There are better ways to do this than involving Jay Bruce.


Bruce isnt good on D any longer?


ru·mor 1. a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.

Exactly what is uncertain or doubtful about the Twins talking to the Pirates about Gerrit Cole? Who has even denied this happened?

What a weird high horse to mount.

Tim S

2. be circulated as an unverified account.
“it’s rumored that he lives on a houseboat”

It appears you might have cherry picked your definition. Given, Tim used the word as a noun in the article, but i contend that you certainly read the article in a grossly rigid manner.


Really Tim? That’s your response? Why invoke Jesus into any of this?



You explicitely called the news that the Twins contacted the Pirates a “rumor”, multiple times, which isn’t the meaning of the word “rumor”.

You were also triggered enough to write almost as many words about your take on rumors than your take on Gerrit Cole’s importance to he Pirates. Hope you got that off your chest!


Why would *I* be the one getting pissed at MLBTR? I clearly am not the one who gets worked up over other writers writing news.


I hope the Pirates bid on Ohtani. It really doesn’t matter what they do in the bid, because every team is pretty much bound to giving him the same financial package, so Ohtani would just have to choose the Pirates for some reason, but he’s likely to cost under $60 million for six years (and a third of that is the posting fee), and a true two-way player like he is could provide enormous value for that amount of money.

I know that’s off topic, but I for some reason started thinking about it while reading this.


I agree. There’s nothing to lose.

Blaine Huff

In addition to my other comment that the $40M estimate is too low…of this guy is 3/4 of what’s being dreamed on…he’s going to absolutely break the arbitration system.

If he’s a just a better than average hitter and a legit #2 starter…he could easily pull down $20M in his last season of arbitration. If he happens to be elite at both tasks, $30M should be easily attainable.

Travis P

We’re all assuming he’s going to stick and stay on the ML roster from the start…even the pundits. I think we’ll see him in a AAA uniform at some point next summer. Mainly because, they have the opportunity to do so if there’s struggles

Blaine Huff

I think your $40M for six years of control is grossly underestimated.

I would bet that whoever does sign him will have a handshake agreement in place for a massive extension after the end of the first season.


That is flat out illegal, and always has been. He also is only eligible for a normal international contract, so teams can’t even give him a major league deal. Best case, he hits arbitration in 3 years. At least that’s how I understand it.

Travis P

That’s not correct. If a team really wants to…they could negotiate a long term deal after he signs to take up his arbitration years and beyond I’d they see fit…but no one, not even a money rich organization, is going to throw away 2 yrs of league minimum and then 4 yrs of arbitration.

Bill Harvey

No, it is correct, the team 1: Can not sign him to a major league deal, 2: Can not discuss any deal outside of the International deal they are working out.

There is nothing at all from the team from signing him to an extension at any point after that, but like you said, it would be hard for any team to give up 3 years of league minimum salaries just to codify anyone. However, it is not something that can be discussed during the current negotiations.


How could MLB possibly allow this after just crushing the Braves and previously disciplining the Red Sox for, yes, circumventing the international free agent signing rules?

Blaine Huff

Would it be a violation for a team to say: “We’ll pay you a two million dollar bonus to sign this season and the major league minimum and, if you perform well after one year, we will be happy to discuss a long-term deal with you”?

There would be nothing, I think, untoward about that.

I keep reading reports that it’s not necessarily about money with him, but, if that conversation is legal, and you have it with the Dodgers and the Pirates…who are you going to sign with?


I genuinely have no idea; I just keep reading folks smarter than me shooting down every fans proposed trick for their team to nab him.

Douglas Byrd

I agree. We are not so far out of contention that it’s not possible. Send Cutch to Japan to convince him! Go full in. At least it is worth a try.


That would be nice to think but he’s signing based on opportunity and exposure, not money. There’s no reason he would choose the pirates over teams like the Mariners or Yankees.

Scott K

He’s going to sign with an AL team so he can DH on days he doesn’t pitch. Just the latest example of how AL teams have advantage over NL clubs due to the DH rule.


It would cost the pirates 20 million for the posting fee and just a few million more as the pirates only have 2.266 million left (and whatever they would take from next year’s bonus pool) . He is subject to the international bonus pool money


I disagree to a degree. I don’t think the Pirates can make a good case to land Ohtani, they aren’t truely going to be contenders, and have no spot for him to play when he isn’t pitching.

I would take all the international money we have left, and throw in some from next year’s total, and see how many of those that just got removed from the Braves organization they could sign. If they take the $2.5 left from this year, add in $3-4 mil from next year, they should be able to get at lest 2 of them. It probably doesn’t provide quite the same value, but it isn’t a bad option.


Also than fangraphs writeup on their prospects wasn’t very flattering. It was a reminder that the Bucs aren’t the only club that fails to develop their players.


Iirc, mlbtraderumors reported that teams can use their 2017 or 2018 pools towards the Braves players but not both.


I read the post again, teams get an extra $200k for these guys, either added to this year or next. It’s odd no matter how you look at it.

Since Ohtani will sign before these kids, make a run at him, if he signs elsewhere, focus back towards these 12.


Did you happen to see Dave Cameron’s chat today?

12:24 Tom: Are the former Braves prospects essentially going to be able to double-up on their signing bonuses?

12:25 Dave Cameron: No; most teams don’t have enough left to give them huge bonuses, and the Braves went over their signing pool to give nine of those guys bonuses over $1 million.

12:26 Dave Cameron: Teams aren’t gong to be walking away from their pre-arranged deals for next July 2 just because these guys are now available. Maybe one or two teams will, but most of these guys are going to get a few hundred grand, I’d bet.

I don’t have a take on this, but he makes a pretty convincing argument. These kids might end up being super cheap.


I think they will get more than that, there are still some teams with enough money, even after Ohtani, to run the price up some.


I can’t imagine a scenario where every team doesn’t ‘bid’ for Ohtani, because he is so affordable and expected to provide so much surplus value that every team should want him. I feel it would be more noteworthy of any team who didn’t “bid”

Michael Sanders

I don’t know if they will accept food stamps for the bid.


While true, there is an up-front $20 million posting fee. Some small market teams might shy away from such a large immediate commitment.


And you can include the Pirates in the “shy away” crowd.

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