Peter Gammons: Astros reload for 2018 run with Cole trade

The Astros are World Champions, partly because their position players are young and intrepid and love the runway, and, by the way, they hammer fastballs so well they led the major leagues in runs and OPS.

When they acquired Justin Verlander they likely assured that championship, that guy for whom the walk to the mound to start the first inning is the ultimate red carpet Kate Upton understands, so well. Now they have another guy who has long looked at Verlander as what he longs to be, and for all the questions raised about the spin rate, home runs, pull percentage and fly ball rates for Gerrit Cole this past season, this is a guy going into his age 27 season who had the second best average fastball velocity (96.5) in the big leagues last season. He is learning that his changeup and breaking balls have to compliment his velo, is exceptionally intelligent, is moving to the Brent Strom Pitching U. at his peak years, and is exactly what the world champion Astros need to take their window through 2019.

And did so without having to trade their two best pitching prospects, Forrest Whitley and J.B. Bukauskas. Now, we all realize there is a sobering morning-after to the celebration of this deal with the Pirates, starting in Pittsburgh, where the notion of reconstruction requires a cold shower. There is also the industry-wide realization that there is suddenly a banana republic feel to where baseball is headed in 2018, a republic where on Martin Luther King Day people pretty much believe that four of the five playoff teams in the American League are, barring a Zombie Apocalypse, the Indians, Astros, Yankees and Red Sox, with the fifth and final play-in team to be determined.

Which means, if you’re a fan of the Orioles, Rays, Royals or Tigers, you’re hoping Mexico pays for The Wall and your teams miraculously then are contenders. And don’t forget to play PowerBall every Wednesday and Saturday.

The Astros should be really good, and people in the organization believe Cole is precisely what they need. Begin with 540-600 innings from two former Cy Young Award winners (Dallas Keuchel, Verlander) and Cole, who many Pirate pitching gurus who know him believe he can be in that elite area.

That means that Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton don’t have to make 30-something starts; don’t forget Game Seven, Morton’s fastball played among the five best of any MLB starter in 2017.

So now A.J. Hinch has more flexibility to give Chris Devenski, Ken Giles, Will Harris and Francis Martes more time to breathe. Perhaps, most important, he can take Brad Peacock—speaking of elite fastballs—and make him a righthanded Andrew Miller. Remember, there were times last season when Hinch was gerrymandering with a bullpen corps on fumes. Barring plague and pestilence, they won’t have to perform on fumes at any time in 2018, not with Keuchel healthy and Verlander and Cole.

I look at Cole and think Max Scherzer, who, remember was traded by Arizona because there was concern about his health, and his ability to harness his great stuff and become a pitcher. At ages 24-26, Cole and Scherzer were comps:

 

 Ages 24-26       W-L      ERA       IP        K-BB/9      HR/9

Max Scherzer   36-31     4.01     561      8.1-3.8      1.11

Gerrit Cole        38-30    3.52      527      8.5-2.3      0.8

Cole’s breaking ball has improved. His changeup, according to Jim Benedict, can be his best pitch. He began altering his pitch selection at the end of last season, and still had a higher fastball velocity than any starter but Severino. It’s there, on a team where he can give up four runs in five innings and have a four run lead.

It is a joy to be around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, et al. He will have veteran mentorship from Verlander and Keuchel and Morton. The ballpark will be packed and he should know soon that owner Jim Crane really cares about winning, he cares about the people of Houston, poor or rich, he cared about the people of Puerto Rico, and made it clear he’d pay the cost to be the boss of Verlander and Cole.

For now. I look out at the icejams on Buzzard’s Bay and think about seeing Cole playing catch with McCann in 30 days, then dream on about an American League final four of the Indians, Astros, Yankees and Red Sox. Come October, there may be a lot of fans in Florida that think this is the wrong thing to do, but the fans parked in front of their television screens singing, “but I don’t care.”

Comments

  1. Mike Dickerson says:

    Great comparison between him and Scherzer. Houston with it’s young talent could be in contention for a world championship for the next 5 to 7 years and maybe beyond! Their core group is very young and talented along with a very good farm system intact, it’s almost scary! The owner also realizes that the opportunities that come this way is far and few between and it seems he is going to try to extend the run as far as he can! Great piece mr. Gammons! I am a true Red Sox fan and I am scared to death of the Astros and the Yankees, there young, have fincial resources, minor leagues are stocked! The Red Sox better start spending some money or there going to be toast!

  2. James King says:

    Meanwhile, Red Sox sit on their hands as J.D. Martinez ostensibly waits until Spring Training for his ‘Big Decision.’ He’s not coming to Boston.

    With a cookie-cutter non-plan following the 2017 season, one has to feel badly for new manager Cora. This latest Sox ‘Bridge Year’ has fallen into their ‘Chasm Year.’

  3. James Panagoulias says:

    I thought that winning three World Series championships would temper the pessimism of the vast majority of Red Sox fans. I was wrong. But, the “woe is me” and “the sky is falling” attitudes are still prevalent.

  4. As a Red Sox fan you have to believe DD has a back up plan if he can’t sign JDM.
    A trade for Abeu ?

  5. Agree with Peter and most others that the Red Sox remain a very good team. I am sure the Sox pitching staff are equally happy for a (finally) healthy Beni, Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Brentz, Moreland, Pedroia, Ramirez, Swihart to go with Devers and the defense of Leon and Vasquez and one of baseball’s best outfields. And the Sox pitching staff, including a (finally) healthy Johnson, Price, Rodriguez, Wright, Smith and Thornburg is pretty elite itself. Will they sign Boras/JDM? Who even cares anymore? They might do just as well, and likely better long term, adding the combined offense of Duda and Nunez and a RP for less $$ and fewer years, for an added 40HR and 20SB and greater utility. Could such a team compete with the NYFY, Indians and Astros? Absolutely.