PITTSBURGH -- With Gerrit Cole now an Astro, what's next for the Pirates?
The Bucs traded Cole to the Astros on Saturday and received three young, Major League-ready players -- Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran and Michael Feliz -- and outfield prospect Jason Martin. It was their first major move of the offseason and a hint that rebuilding could be in the offing next season.
• Bucs net 4 players as Cole goes to Astros
Yet the trade also filled several holes on their current roster. Their next move may have signaled a clearer direction on Monday, when they dealt another prominent veteran player, Andrew McCutchen.
For now, there are questions to be answered about the just-completed trade and the rest of Pittsburgh's offseason plans. Here's a look at the fallout facing the Pirates as they move on without their Opening Day starter from last season.
What does this mean for the rotation?
It's even younger than it was on Saturday morning. The Pirates plan to slot Musgrove into the middle of the rotation. That gives them a projected Opening Day staff of Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Musgrove, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams.
Their depth options still include Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham, with top prospect Mitch Keller on the horizon in late 2018 or early '19. Brault and Glasnow could make the bullpen out of Spring Training.
They don't have a proven high-end starter atop the rotation, though Cole did not match his 2015 production or potential over the past two years either. Taillon could grow into that role, if he's healthy, and Keller looks like a future top-of-the-rotation arm. Glasnow still has the ability and potential to dominate, but his Minor League success has not carried over to the bigs.
How about the bullpen?
The Pirates think Feliz is a potential late-inning reliever, but he probably won't be asked to fill that role right away. The hard-throwing 24-year-old righty should join the middle-relief mix in front of closer Felipe Rivero and veteran right-handers George Kontos and Daniel Hudson.
Feliz is another intriguing young arm to put alongside Rivero, Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana, though his results (career 5.13 ERA) haven't matched his ridiculous strikeout numbers (172 in 121 innings).
Is Moran the third baseman?
Yes, Moran will be the starting third baseman, and David Freese likely will return to the reserve role Pittsburgh envisioned when he was signed. Freese could serve as a bat off the bench and a backup at first and third base. The right-handed-hitting Freese may also protect the lefty-swinging Moran by starting against tough southpaw starters.
The Pirates' only high-end third-base prospect is Ke'Bryan Hayes, who should play in Double-A this year. That means the hot corner belongs to Moran, 25, for the foreseeable future.
Why didn't they get [insert high-end prospect here] instead?
Odds are, that top prospect you thought they would get wasn't actually available.
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported that the Yankees would not give up Gleyber Torres, Estevan Florial, Miguel Andujar or Justus Sheffield, and New York wouldn't part with Clint Frazier and Chance Adams in the same trade -- it was one or the other, not both.
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ESPN also reported that several of Houston's top prospects -- Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher and Yordan Alvarez -- were untouchable. So they could have landed Frazier and a mid-level prospect from the Yankees, but instead they opted for the larger collection of MLB-ready players offered by the Astros. The Pirates believe the players they received still have untapped upside, too.
Why didn't they get more for their ace?
That's been the biggest criticism of the trade, that the Pirates didn't get a "star" in return. But it seems Cole was not necessarily valued as a top-of-the-rotation arm by the industry, like Chris Sale was last winter, and he came with two years of control, not 3 1/2 affordable seasons like Jose Quintana did last season.
Cole could very well return to form in Houston, where he'll learn from Justin Verlander and likely utilize more offspeed pitches, and he was still a valuable asset on the trade market. But the Pirates were offering Cole's production the last two years (including a 103 ERA+) as much as his "ace" potential, which may help explain the return.
Why not wait until the Trade Deadline? At that point, Cole would have offered less club control, and the Pirates would have run the risk of an injury or underperformance lessening his trade value.
Who is the next to go?
To be determined. After moving McCutchen, the Pirates will continue to listen to offers for their veteran players nearing free agency, including Freese and Josh Harrison.
Rival executives figured that a Cole trade would grease the skids for further moves, but the Pirates won't settle for less now just because they already dealt Cole. It depends entirely on the offers they receive.