I want to look at what this deal means for Houston, for the Pirates, for the N.L. Central and for the Cubs.
For the Astros, it likely gives them the best rotation in the American League: Cole, Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton. The Astros allowed the fourth-fewest runs of any A.L. team in 2017, but that was still 700 runs, 136 more than the league-leading Indians. This deal puts Houston probably on close-to-equal footing with Cleveland — and that’s for a team that won 101 games anyway, mainly because they led the league with 896 runs.
There’s one other thing to consider with the Astros, and that’s this: With the acquisition of Cole, who is under team control for two seasons, that likely takes them out of the running for Yu Darvish. That cuts Darvish’s options down, and perhaps rekindles talks with the Cubs. This is why a trade of this nature can break up a free-agent logjam.
The trade of Cole, who has been at the top of the Pirates rotation, could signal a possible complete teardown and rebuild for the Bucs, who have had losing records the last two seasons after three straight postseason appearances. Cole had somewhat of a down year in 2017, but still posted good peripherals and a season worth 2.8 bWAR. It might mean Andrew McCutchen is next on the trade block; trade rumors swirled around McCutchen last year and could intensify now. The Pirates might also wind up trading Josh Harrison. Both of those players could bring back a decent return to Pittsburgh.
If the Pirates do that, it changes the balance of power in the N.L. Central. Though the Pirates had a losing season in 2017, they were still in marginal contention in late July — 50-50 and 2½ games out of first place July 24, perhaps one of the reasons they didn’t deal Cole or McCutchen at the deadline last year. A full rebuild would presumably put the Pirates and Reds at the bottom of the division. The Cubs were 10-9 against the Pirates in 2017 after going 14-4 against them in 2016. This likely makes the Brewers and Cardinals the Cubs’ chief competition in the division for the next two or three seasons.
Let’s hope this deal finally breaks open the free-agent market. The Cubs still seek a starting pitcher and I hope they’ll sign someone — Darvish? — soon.