The Astros pulled off one of the biggest trades of the winter this weekend, finally snagging Gerrit Cole from the Pirates in exchange for four young players. The initial reaction from most: Houston didn’t give up a whole lot.
Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran and Michael Feliz have all spent time in the big leagues in the last two seasons, but none is considered a top-tier prospect. And the fourth player, Jason Martin, is a Double-A outfielder who was left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft and wasn’t selected by anyone.
Which makes you wonder what a comparable package of players from the Nationals would have looked like. We know the Nats have some interest in acquiring another starting pitcher, perhaps someone who could slide right in behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in their rotation. Cole, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft who is 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in 127 career starts, would certainly have fit that bill.
What would the Nationals have had to give up to acquire the right-hander, who has two years of control left before he can become a free agent? Well, it’s not easy to find perfect comparables for each of the four players Houston traded, but we’ll do our best ...
Musgrove is a 25-year-old right-hander who was groomed as a starter but pitched mostly out of the bullpen in 2017. The results (11-12, 4.52 ERA, 1.284 WHIP in 171 1/3 big league innings) have been erratic, but he’s has enough talent to merit another shot at a full-time starting job and at worst looks like a decent reliever. He kind of sounds like Joe Ross (minus the Tommy John surgery, course).
Moran, 25, was a highly touted corner infield prospect who didn’t breeze through the Astros’ farm system as quickly as hoped. Baseball America said it would have ranked him as the organization’s No. 9 prospect entering 2018 after he hit .308 with 18 homers and a .916 OPS at Triple-A last season. He appeared to be blocked from a regular starting job in Houston. The Nats don’t have an exact match here, but Brian Goodwin might be the best choice, a first-round pick who needed some time to develop and remains blocked from an everyday job in D.C.
Feliz, 24, is a hard-throwing reliever with great stuff but poor command, leading to a 12.8-to-3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98 career big league appearances. If he can find the strike zone with more regularity, he might develop into a closer. But, as is the case with so many hard-throwing relievers, that’s a big if. Sure sounds a lot like a right-handed Enny Romero, doesn’t he?
Martin, 22, hit a combined .278 with 35 doubles, 18 homers and 16 stolen bases at Single-A and Double-A last season. The Astros left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft but there weren’t any takers, perhaps out of concern that he profiles as a corner outfielder who doesn’t hit for a ton of power. Again, there isn’t a perfect comparable player in the Nationals’ system, but let’s go with Andrew Stevenson (who did reach the big leagues last year but is behind several others on the organizational depth chart).
So would a four-player package of Ross, Goodwin, Romero and Stevenson have been enough to bring Cole to Washington? Who knows. Ross’ injury would be a major red flag, and maybe Moran has a higher ceiling than Goodwin, so the Astros’ package might well have been more attractive.
But if you’re wondering what it would take, in generic terms, for the Nationals to acquire a No. 3 starter in the mold of Cole, this might qualify as a rough outline.
The question now is whether any other clubs out there are willing to shop their own No. 3 starters in exchange for a similar package of young players. And then whether the Nats would be willing to pull the trigger.