PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates traded top starter Gerrit Cole on Saturday, but don't seem ready for a complete rebuild just yet.After months of speculation, the Pirates dealt Cole, their No. 1 starter and former No. 1 overall pick, to the Astros for right-hander Joe Musgrove, third baseman Colin Moran, reliever
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates traded top starter Gerrit Cole on Saturday, but don't seem ready for a complete rebuild just yet.
After months of speculation, the Pirates dealt Cole, their No. 1 starter and former No. 1 overall pick, to the Astros for right-hander Joe Musgrove, third baseman Colin Moran, reliever Michael Feliz and outfield prospect Jason Martin.
General manager Neal Huntington said he expects Musgrove, Moran and Feliz to contribute in the Majors this season. Musgrove will join Pittsburgh's rotation. Moran will be a regular at third base. Feliz will bring a big, albeit unproven, arm to the Bucs' bullpen.
"This was in our mind the best combination of ceiling, fit and guys who happen to be Major League-ready," Huntington said.
On the final day of the Winter Meetings, Huntington indicated the Pirates had not yet decided whether to reload for next season or retool for 2019 and beyond. Dealing Cole indicates they are prioritizing the future, but getting MLB-ready players in return makes it seem as if they are not fully giving up on the present, either.
The Pirates did not deal Cole for young prospects who are years away from the big leagues as they might have in a full tear-down and rebuild. They instead added to the existing young core in Pittsburgh, hoping to compete in the near future.
Huntington said this trade does "not necessarily" mean the Pirates will also deal veterans such as Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison.
"If there's another move that makes sense for us, big picture, as an organization, we have to engage on it. If there's not, then that's fine with us as well," Huntington said. "We made this move because we felt like it was the right move for us as an organization as we work to get ourselves back in a postseason spot."
Musgrove, 25, is a former top-100 prospect who has gone 11-12 with a 4.52 ERA in the Majors. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander moved into Houston's bullpen midway through last season after struggling in the rotation, but the Pirates view him as a starter.
Moran, who becomes the Pirates' No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, slashed .308/.373/.543 with 18 home runs in 79 games for Triple-A Fresno and made his Major League debut last season. The 25-year-old, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2013 Draft, could take over as Pittsburgh's starting third baseman.
Feliz, 24, posted a 5.63 ERA in 46 relief appearances last season despite striking out 70 batters in 48 innings. He struck out 95 batters in 65 innings while recording a 4.43 ERA in 2016. Huntington said the Pirates view him as a potential late-inning arm.
Martin, 22, is now the Pirates' No. 18 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. The left-handed hitter slashed .278/.332/.487 with 18 home runs and 16 steals in 125 games between Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi last season.
Cole didn't quite live up to his "ace" potential in Pittsburgh, but he proved his health and top-of-the-rotation stuff this past season, throwing 203 innings with 196 strikeouts over 33 starts. His fastball touched 100 mph after an injury-riddled 2016 campaign, and he showed an effective four-pitch mix. At times, he was better than he's ever been in the Majors.
But Cole was inconsistent and plagued by home runs, finishing 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA and a career-high 31 homers allowed. Overall, he leaves Pittsburgh with a 59-42 record and 3.50 ERA in 127 starts over parts of five seasons.
Free agency was not an immediate concern with Cole, as the Bucs shipped him to Houston with two years of club control remaining. His $6.75 million salary also wasn't a problem. But Huntington said now was the time to trade him.
"It's the balance of immediate, moderate and longer-term [interest]," Huntington said. "Yes, Gerrit Cole is a really good Major League pitcher. … As we look to position ourselves to be as competitive as consistently and frequently as possible, we felt this was the best move for us as an organization."
In corresponding moves to the 40-man roster, the Pirates on Sunday designated for assignment infielder Engelb Vielma and right-handed pitcher Shane Carle.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.