Looking at Gerrit Cole’s Trade Value

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 01: Gerrit Cole
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 01: Gerrit Cole /
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Gerrit Cole is entering his second year of arbitration and only has two years left of team control.  He’s going to start getting expensive, and the Pirates may look to trade him off now and gain value instead of paying him a lot of money the next two seasons, only for him to walk after 2019.

Gerrit Cole had a down 2016 season following a season in which he finished fourth in Cy Young voting.  He had, at the time, a career high 3.88 ERA and a career low strikeout rate of 19.4 percent.  Part of that was a disastrous final four starts that saw Cole possess a 9.00 ERA, was a strong 2.94 ERA and 2.86 FIP in his first 17 starts.  He was plagued by injuries at both the start of spring training, midway through the year, and to end the season.  Part of the Pirates missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012 was because of these struggles.

This past season, results were similar for Cole, but for a different reason.  He tossed 200 innings for the second time of his career, but he saw his ERA balloon up to a career high 4.26, a league average ERA once adjusted for league and park (100 ERA-).  His strikeout rate ticked back up to 23.1 percent, but he saw his home run rate jump to 3.7 percent, which happens to be the second highest among pitchers who threw 100 innings in both 2016 and 2017.  He still managed to produce a 3.1 fWAR, and his xFIP of 3.81 was was 12 percent better than average (xFIP- of 88), so his value is still there, just the results may vary depending on if Major League Baseball changes the ball back to normal.

Gerrit Cole’s trade value

Just like the McCutchen trade value, we’ll use the surplus he will provide in a trade to gauge his worth and what to expect in return.  The league dollars per WAR is based on the research of Matt Swartz, and using the $10.5 million in from 2017 multiplied by the growth of 5.9 percent, we can get a projected league dollars per WAR for 2018 and 2019, which Swartz also has in his post.  Cole’s WAR is projected based off of STEAMER for 2018, and then subtract off a half win for 2019, which is more aggressive than I was with Niese and Sale, but given his track record, it is probably more on par.  The difference of 0.2 WAR is also the same as $2.35 million, and given WAR is a framework and prospects are a best estimate of worth, that $2.35 million doesn’t really change much for the purposes of this article.

Cole’s 2018 salary is based on his projected arbitration, and since that’s double what he made in year one of arbitration, a I doubled it again for 2019, however a strong 2018 could lead to a 250 percent increase, making Cole’s salary $18.75 million, lowering his surplus by $3.75 million.  But, these are estimates of what he’s roughly worth on a trade market and should be used in that way.  Below is the amount of surplus Cole will provide to teams the next two seasons:

ColeAgeSalaryRateWARLg$/WARSurplus
201827 $7,500,000.005.90%3.8 $11,119,500.00 $34,754,100.00
201928 $15,000,000.005.90%3.3 $11,775,550.50 $23,859,316.65
 $58,613,416.65

Cole is worth roughly $58.6 million, though that can range really from $54.8 million to $61 million based on how much you project Cole to make in 2019 and how much value you project from Cole that season as well.

Just like with what it would take to acquire Evan Longoria and what the Pirates would receive for McCutchen, I’ll use the table on Fanrgaphs that comes from their licensed agreement to use the The Point of Pittsburgh model.

Just like for calculating how much it would cost the Pirates to acquire Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays, I’ll use the model that The Point of Pittsburgh has created and licensed to Fangraphs.  Below is the table on Fangraphs for the surplus for hitters and pitchers and their respective grades:

Grade
Hitter
Pitcher
75$175 million$83 million
70$107 million$62 million
65$70 million$62 million
60$60 million$34 million
55$38 million$22 million
50$20 million$14 million
45$11 million$13 million

The Pirates could look to go after a big fish in a 60 grade hitter, but that seems unlikely.  Given what the Pirates have done in the past, going after two big arms, a 60 grade and 55 grade, or a solid bat and pitcher, a 55 grade bat and 55 grade pitcher, seems to be the most likely.  They’ll also look for lesser pieces with more of an upside that are currently far away from reaching the big leagues and are considered raw to finish off the deal.  Like the McCutchen trade value, I’ll only focus on prospects and not potential big league assets.

Potential teams

The Minnesota Twins have called the Pirates on a deal for Cole, and they do have a shortstop in Nick Gordon who fits the bill as a 55 grade hitter.  Gordon, who is the younger half-brother of Dee Gordon and son of Tom Gordon, is a switch hitting middle infielder.  He ranked 50th on Fangraphs midseason top 100 prospect list, and he would provide a switch hitting middle infielder with solid hitting ability.  On the pitching side of things, left hander Stephen Gonsalves would be a 55 grade arm that is almost big league ready.  The 23-year-old reached AAA this past season and has a plus changeup, and over the course of the last two minor league seasons, Gonsalves has struck out 27.3 percent of hitters.

If the Pirates target two hitters, a 55 and 50 bat, the Pirates could look at home town kid Alex Kirilloff, the 15th overall pick in the 2016 draft.  Kirilloff would provide the Pirates another top corner outfield prospect from the left side of the plate, though he is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and that can be a concern.

Next: Look at Prospect Dario Agrazal

Rounding out a deal could be Jose Miranda, a second round pick in 2016.  The 19-year-old is a middle infielder, and his MLB Pipeline page makes it seem like his ceiling is a Neil Walker type second baseman:

"“He doesn’t strike out a ton, but he can expand the zone too much at times. He has shown the ability to square the ball up and hit it hard consistently, leading many to believe he will hit for average in the future. If he does, there’s a good chance he’ll tap into his solid raw power, something that did show up more consistently in Elizabethton.Miranda is a good athlete, though he has fringy speed right now. If he fills out as expected, he might lose a half step. He has the chance to develop into an offensive-minded everyday second baseman if it all comes together.”"

Three bats seems unlikely for the Pirates, but given their lack of impact bat potential in the minors, they might view Cole as a way to find those bats.

There are many other teams that could look at Cole because of his young arm and the projected surplus he would provide to a team.  The Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, and Boston Red Sox should all have interest him as well.  The package would be similar to the one laid out above with the Twins.  Of course, teams such as the Red Sox and Mariners could try to acquire both McCutchen and Cole, though the Mariners farm system is probably not strong enough to acquire Cole, let alone both.

*Numbers from fangraph