Peter Gammons: The Pirates and the depreciating asset of Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole was brilliant Wednesday night. He gave up one bloop single in his first six innings. Then again, since the Pirates’ April 3 opener at Fenway Park, Cole has been consistently brilliant, allowing two earned runs or less in his last seven starts.

He is healthy. He is still a power pitcher who averaged 96.7 and hit 99.1 Wednesday night with his four and two seamer, but he has studied and worked and made himself a multi-dimensional pitcher who Wednesday threw 26 of 38 changeups, knuckle curves, and sliders for strikes. His minor league mentor, Jim Benedict, tells Marlins folks that he is such a student of the game, so intelligent, that he could be a pitching coach, and right now. And he won’t be 27 years old until September.

Most big Scott Boras clients come with an expiration date tag. Sometimes, that free agent promise date seems a distraction; their teams believe it in the cases of Jake Arrieta and Matt Harvey, but it never distracted Max Scherzer from his relentless drive for greatness.

There is a sense that Cole has been distracted, but there is the warning label attached to his uniform that reads:”He becomes a free agent on November 1, 2019.” The Pirates knew that when they took him with the first selection in the 2011 draft, and while they made the playoffs in the deep National League Central three straight years, they knew that label would not come off as long as he was with the Pirates and the market could not support a $200M contract—particularly for a pitcher—that Scott Boras was taking him to the market the week of the next midterm elections. Oh yes, when Cole spun that gem Wednesday, the Pirates drew 18,808; Mike Sullivan’s defending Stanley Cup champions are in the playoffs, as ever.

So the reality is that Gerrit Cole could mean the World Series to the Astros or the Yankees, who have the farm systems to trade for him. If the Pirates wait until the off-season, his one year value is less than the value he has during this season, which is that if Houston or the Yankees get him he pitches three Septembers and Octobers for them in his twenties. And, don’t worry about the fact that he was the Yankees’ first pick out of high school and chose to attend UCLA, because Yankee scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has maintained a good relationship with Cole and his family.

If the Pirates do decide to trade him and reboot with a deep talented group of players in the minors, and with Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow on their major league pitching staff and horizon, they can use the kind of haul the White Sox got for Chris Sale to deepen their rebuild, and can point to what Sale has meant to Boston, which is to say they wouldn’t be even thinking of October baseball right now without him.

Face reality;

–They are in last place. Granted, they’re only 5 ½ games behind the Brewers, but the Cardinals and Cubs loom ahead of them, and if you’re looking to another wild card run, there are six teams in front of them, and while the N.L. East is in chaos other than the Nationals, the West could have three post-season teams because the Rockies and Diamondbacks are very good.

–Taillon, for whom we all pray, isn’t coming back soon. Neither is Starling Marte. With Wednesday’s court ruling in Korea, Jung Ho Kang may not make it back this season, especially since the new U.S. administration is way behind in filling ambassadorships and consulate administrators, speaking of chaos.

–No one can explain it, but Andrew McCutchen’s OBP is under .300, his slugging under .400.

They listened on McCutchen last winter, and they will listen again between now and August 1.

And it looks as if they will, at the least, listen, on Cole. Why not?

The Pirates have the third worst run differential in the league. They are second-to-last in the NL in runs, homers and OPS, third to last with a .304 OBP. Only the Padres are worse in Defensive Runs Saved. Glasnow, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams are 3-8, 7.34, in growing pains. Gregory Polanco is now out with a hamstring pull, and many scouts feel he has regressed—one homer, .706 OPS.

The Pirates under Neal Huntington have built one of the game’s best cutting edge They Have established a unique culture, where everyone from Clint Hurdle to the Gulf Coast League buy into ideas and creativity without first person pronouns.

It will take a team that can look around its clubhouse and tell the players Gerrit Cole gives you a legitimate shot at a World Series ring this October, and the next. The Dodgers, who haven’t done the six year route for a starting pitcher under Andrew Friedman, wouldn’t jump in, especially with the pitching they have in their system from Clayton Kershaw to Walker Buehler. Toronto can’t; it’s just about in reboot mode. Boston’s done it for Sale and David Price, and won’t go this big again.

But the Astros and Yankees are two teams that can and they aren’t in the same league as the Pirates, unlike the Cubs and Cardinals. Look, there may not be a better baseball park east of San Francisco than Pittsburgh, and they have had a great run, but reality is setting in. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole are walking out the door soon, the cost of retaining Cole might make the rest of the payroll look like the ’17 Padres, so the best thing may be to accept reality, and think back to the 2011 draft, see where the next two players (Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer) have gone and appreciate that they got the best player in that draft, they made the playoffs thrice, and the expiration date is nigh.



  1. Peter
    Cole not free agent until after 2019 season.
    And Marte’s 1st name is Starling

    • I think the concept still plays… the Pirates are not going to overtake the Cubs or Cardinals with their current roster, and they can’t afford to bring on much more payroll to compete, and they will not be able to pay the 25-30m a year to resign Cole when he eventually does hit free agency. So why wait around a kid yourself when you can make your system strong for when the Cubs rotation and the Cardinals’ core eventually begin to fade in age?

      • Wrong.

        • Nope, you are the one that is wrong.

          • Bigstik10 says:

            Nope, you are. Just because they had some bad breaks this year with Kong, Marte, and Taillion doesn’t mean they need to tear it all down. Based on existing contracts, they still have a window in 2018 and 2019 to compete for the division title.

          • Hey, I hope you are right, love this generation of Pirate ballers…, but we can’t lie to ourselves about what they have and just as, if not more importantly, what they will have. So they basically have till the trade deadline to show that the window is still open, otherwise it would be prudent to discuss offers.

  2. Perhaps consider selling the franchise to an owner who is more interested in investing in a championship team than maximizing profit;i.e. Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh guy. The franchise had a nice run as a result of years of stock piling draft choices as a result of the years of futility. Now that the team is more competitive, the draft positioning has dropped considerably. Hence, focusing more on the free agent market, or retaining your own stars, becomes more important. Middle level market or not, without a financial commitment to a championship caliber roster, will just continue the horse and pony show. Scratch the fireworks and bobbleheads and commit financially. Good coaching staff is in place. Best pitching coach in baseball. Invest and retain talent whenever possible. Cole became a pitcher under this organization. They could have attempted to have done a deal already rather than recently slapping him a lower annual contract than his previous one, after he finished third in Cy Young race. So Syd Thrift like. Cheap. Arrogant. Bad business. We don’t need to be a farm system for the likes of the Yankees. If you can’t commit, sell to someone who will and invest your money elsewhere. Simply, step up, or step out.

  3. But the cubs aren’t the same team this year and you cant expect the brewers and Cardinals to keep up the pace their doing there just not that good of teams. So why would reading Gerrit cole this year make sense

  4. Trading Gerrit cole

  5. This front office can hear a $20 bill hit snowfall. They won’t hesitate to move an asset if it’s financially beneficial to do so. But WHEN presumes rationality, as in “We want to be truly competitive.” The fallacy is expecting they seek a major haul they’ll eventually have to compensate with market value.

  6. john levasseur says:

    “…especially since the new U.S. administration is way behind in filling ambassadorships and consulate administrators, speaking of chaos.” Gee, wonder why that is? Could it be the petty little children’s games being played by the Democrats in congress…the ones who cried and called Repulicans all sorts of bad names and vowed that THEY would never stoop to those levels when they did it? Stick to baseball Peter….you are an icon in that field.

  7. As a Pirates fan since 1962, Gammons piece makes sense for the Pirates. They are going to lose Cole for nothing in free agency, and if they did have Kang(Not KONG), Marte & Tallion for the entire 2017 season they would still finish third in the division because they are not very good!

  8. Jay Cantrell says:

    I don’t think anybody is talking about “tearing it down.” The key is the return that Cole could bring at the deadline. The Astros and Yankees have strong farm systems with a lot of the talent at the Class AAA or on the way to Class AAA soon. Cole could bring in a return that makes the Shelby Miller fiasco look mild by comparison (if the Astros or Yankees are being pushed in their division and need to make a move). Think two future everyday players and a pitcher that slots in no lower than No. 3 in a good rotation. These guys get to Pittsburgh later this year or in 2018. The Pirates have to maximize Cole’s value now. Let’s face it, he’s a good asset on a mediocre team. He’s worth far more to a team in a playoff hunt that he is in Pgh.

  9. Never mind the occasional mistakes, do you realize Peter Gammons is a living, breathing baseball legend? We are fortunate to be able to read his work. and if that means the occasional glitches, I’ll take it. As for Cole, he’s the only guy out there right now that I would trade the farm for. If I’m the Cubs, I would move one of either Happ or Jimenez, along with Baez and Dylan Cease for him. Unfortunately, it seems the two best starters on the trade market are off-limits for Chicago, due to the difficulties of trading with the White Sox (Quintana) and inside the division (Pittsburgh), so those trades won’t happen.

  10. Why not go on the offense, the team is built to win now thru 2020. If they can stay competitive till the all star break, maybe they can make a run when Marte and Taillon return. King can add some pop if he get his Visa issues worked out. Cutch is the wild card, but Fraser, Bell, Polonco could mature into solid major leaguers. It was not long ago people picked Pittsburgh to have the best outfield in baseball. I would sign Cole to to a Four year contract. Buy out his two ARB years, add two for a total 52 million. He would still be in his prime for a big pay day. This seems like the Pirate way, if you can get past Boras. You would have a number 1 thru 2021, which are hard to come by. There are a number of arms that can join him and Nova. Why chase other arms that will cost your minor league prospects.

    • It sounds like a good idea, but like you said,”if you get it past Boras”. He pretty much always has his guys do arbitration then hit the mega payday market.

  11. Homer J. says:

    Nye is the science guy. The expiration date is NIGH.