Minnesota Twins: Gerrit Cole is an intriguing arm for the starting rotation

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 13: Pitcher Gerrit Cole
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 13: Pitcher Gerrit Cole /

The Minnesota Twins are searching for a starter to add to their rotation and Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole is an intriguing option.

It’s no secret the Minnesota Twins are looking heavily into the free agent market for starting pitching. Unfortunately, the market looks a bit too pricey right now, paving the way for trade rumors to start to swirl around. The latest of those rumors suggest that the Twins are looking into trades with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays.

While both arms present clear upgrades for the Twins, Gerrit Cole provides the most intrigue considering he boasts the higher upside. At 27 years old, the right-hander has been one of the top pitchers in the league over the last few seasons. Specifically, he has a 59-42 record, 3.50 ERA and 8.4 strikeout ratio per nine innings in five seasons as the ace of the Pirates staff.

Cole’s best season came in 2015 when he had a 19-8 record with a 2.60 ERA in 208 innings pitched. In result, he made an All-Star appearance and finished fourth in a loaded NL Cy Young race. He also led the Pirates to the playoffs, although he’d fail to outduel eventual Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card Game.

As far as his pitches, Cole has quite the arsenal, including a mid-to-high 90s fastball and sinker, a slider, a curve and a changeup. Basically, he’s known as a power arm with great stuff. Here’s what Brooks Baseball has to say about his pitches:

"Basic description of 2017 pitches compared to other RHP:His fourseam fastball has well above average velo and has slight armside run. His slider is thrown extremely hard and generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders. His sinker is blazing fast and has slight armside run. His curve is slightly harder than usual and has slight glove-side movement. His change is thrown extremely hard and has slight armside fade.More from Minnesota TwinsMinnesota Twins bullpen will be their downfallTop 5 Minnesota Twins Pitching ProspectsJake Odorizzi’s emergence fueling Twins starting staffFormer Minnesota Twins player David Ortiz shotCraig Kimbrel Alternatives for the Minnesota Twins"

Last season, the 6-foot-4 pitcher had a respectable year with a 12-12 record and 4.26 ERA in 33 starts, although he struggled to find consistency and gave up a career-high 31 home runs. The encouraging news is that he made it through all of 2017 after an injury-riddled year in 2016. Specifically, he missed half of that season with elbow and triceps injuries. Even so, they didn’t seem to phase him last season as he pitched 203 innings, the second time he’s gone over 200 innings the last three seasons.

While he’s coming off his worst year as a pro, he still has the tools to be the ace of a staff, especially for a team like the Twins. As already stated, he’s only 27 years old, so there’s reason to believe his best years are still in front of him.

Furthermore, after missing the playoffs two years in a row, Cole looks to be available for the right price. With two years of team control, he won’t necessarily come cheap, but the Twins are in a good place to pay up for a starter of his caliber. They already have a team made up of young and up and coming players, so trading away a couple farm pieces doesn’t look like a bad move for a team with World Series aspirations.

Sure, Minnesota can still sign a top starter in free agency to a large contract without losing farms players. That being said, the long-term investment in signing one of those top options like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta may prove more costly.

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Currently, rumors are floating around that Darvish is seeking a six-year deal in the neighborhood of $180 million, which is the definition of overpaid. While the 31-year-old is unlikely to receive such a deal, the initial numbers are enough to suggest he’s still going to get overpaid when it’s all set and done. Add in the fact his 2017 numbers aren’t supremely better than Cole and it makes sense why the Twins are exploring a trade for Cole.

2017 Statistics

Yu Darvish: 31 starts, 186.2 innings, 10-12, 3.86 ERA, 209 strikeouts, 1.16 WHIP, 27 HR

Gerrit Cole: 33 starts, 203.0 innings, 12-12, 4.26 ERA, 196 strikeouts, 1.25 WHIP, 31 HR

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In the end, it comes down to what the Twins value more. One of their top prospects such as Nick Gordon, Stephen Gonsalves or Fernando Romero or a salary figure that likely takes them out of the running to make a big move down the road. This is especially the case if that high-priced player doesn’t turn out.

While there’s high upside starters that’ll come cheaper than Darvish in free agency, they still likely won’t come at a cheaper price than Cole’s $7.5 million projection. Consequently, I’d say Cole is the safest option.

Simply, Cole is capable of performing just as well as any free agent at around $15-20 million cheaper. It may cost at least one big-time prospect, but Minnesota’s time to shine is now and getting a player of Cole’s caliber and potential makes this team better. A starting rotation headed by Cole, Ervin Santana, and Jose Berrios is a solid top-three. Not to mention, they could end up signing Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani as well.

On the other hand, if Cole didn’t work out, Minnesota isn’t on the hook for paying him long-term. In other words, they don’t put themselves in a bind from going after other top options in free agency or the trade market moving forward.

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All things considered, the Twins would be wise to trade for Cole. Essentially, the current Pirates ace makes the most sense given he’s under team control, is an ace-caliber pitcher and doesn’t hurt what the team can do in the short and long term future.