At this point it looks like the Pirates will definitely be trading Gerrit Cole this offseason. That would most likely happen with a trade to the Yankees, although the Pirates are talking to other teams.
If/when Cole gets traded, I think the Pirates should follow that up with trades of a few other players who are under control through the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Guys like Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, and Francisco Cervelli should follow Cole, as the Pirates won’t be competing without Cole on the roster, and have no use in keeping those players around. We’ve already heard trade rumors that the Pirates would deal any of those three players.
There have been questions about who would play for the Pirates after a Cole trade, or after any other trades. I really don’t think that question matters for 2018, and maybe not even for 2019, since the Pirates would be in a rebuild. They could have their younger pitchers stepping in for Cole, and have younger players stepping in for other players who were traded.
In the long-term, the Pirates do have some eventual replacements for guys they could trade away. Let’s take a look at those options for each position.
Cole is currently the top of the Pirates’ rotation, paired with Jameson Taillon. The Pirates also have plenty of rotation depth for the final three spots. If Cole and Taillon were on their game at the same time, the Pirates would have a strong rotation.
The Pirates will need a top of the rotation guy to step up and replace Cole. Fortunately, they have that guy in Mitch Keller, who is one of the best prospects in baseball, and who looks like he could be ready by the end of 2018 at the earliest, or 2019 with a little more time. Keller is about as safe as you can get for a top of the rotation prospect. There aren’t any big concerns or obstacles to overcome like there have been for Tyler Glasnow. He’s more like Taillon and Cole in terms of his potential to step in and be effective in the majors right away.
The hope is that Glasnow would also get things figured out and add a third piece to the future Taillon/Keller combo. The Pirates have Shane Baz as another potential top of the rotation guy, but he wouldn’t be ready in the next few years, and would likely be a future replacement for Taillon. The same could be said for the many young prep pitchers in the lower levels, if any of them break out in the next few years.
Then there’s the chance that the Pirates could add a rotation piece in one of the trades, although I think the best they can hope for is a good number three starter behind Taillon and Keller, rather than a future top of the rotation guy.
The Pirates have their eventual replacement for Andrew McCutchen, and his name is Austin Meadows. But there are questions surrounding his health and durability. The Cole discussions have largely mentioned Clint Frazier as the main piece in a potential deal. That would provide some insurance for Meadows in the event that the injuries prevent him from reaching his upside.
There should be no reason to avoid adding other outfield options until the Pirates have three established guys in the majors. There are too many question marks involved in the current outfield, and that goes beyond Meadows. Until the Pirates are in a situation where there are very few question marks from the outfield, they shouldn’t avoid adding other options. That goes for other positions as well.
The Pirates are set with infield options in the upper levels of the minors. They have Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer ready to open the season in Indianapolis, and both could arrive in the majors by the end of the year. Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes will open in Altoona, and give two more infield options.
Right now the Pirates don’t have a third base option. They could trade Josh Harrison in a rebuild. And Jordy Mercer is in his final year of team control. They will need starters for three of their infield spots in the future. The likely starters would be Newman taking over for Mercer, Kramer taking over for Harrison, and then Hayes taking over at third. I could also see Tucker taking over for Newman eventually.
Just like the outfield, the Pirates shouldn’t avoid additional options coming back in a trade. They can’t count on three of those four prospects in the upper levels working out. And it’s not that those are the only people they’re relying on. Max Moroff could also be a starter at second base before Kramer arrives, and there are other options in the upper levels who could surprise by becoming a passable starter if all else fails. But you can never have too many options, especially when there are three spots open.
The Pirates have the least amount of depth at catcher. Elias Diaz could be a starting option if Francisco Cervelli is traded, but Diaz is far from a guarantee right now to be a starter. It’s also not guaranteed that the Pirates could trade Cervelli and get anything in return, other than some salary relief.
There aren’t any starting options in the upper levels of the minors. There aren’t really any starting options in the lower levels, outside of a few guys who have a small chance to be passable MLB starters. The Pirates need Diaz to work out, because they have no other catcher of the future. If Diaz doesn’t work, they need to re-create the magic that landed them Russell Martin and then Francisco Cervelli on cheaper deals.
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.