"Trading Gerrit Cole was not an easy decision. We are very appreciative for what Gerrit has done for our team and organization, especially his important role on the 2013-15 playoff teams," Pirates general manger Neal Huntington said in a news release. "Acquiring these four quality young players, three of whom we project to be an important part of our 2018 team, with many years of potential contribution, is an important step for us as we work toward bringing playoff baseball back to our fans."
Cole, 27, went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA, 196 strikeouts and 55 walks while making a career-high 33 starts in 2017. On Friday, Cole and the Pirates reached agreement on a one-year contract worth $6.75 million. He had one year of arbitration remaining and was likely to command a huge raise in 2019, one of the reasons the Pirates had considered trading him.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole was at a birthday dinner for his wife when he got the call that he had been traded.
"I wouldn't say it was a gut-punch," Cole told the paper. "But I was shocked, for sure.
"People come and go. It's part of the nature of the business. As for the Pirates, they obviously believe what they're getting in return is going to pay dividends in the future. They're trying to compete. They feel this is the direction they need to go."
Before sending Cole to Houston, the Pirates had held extensive trade talks with the New York Yankees this winter. But sources familiar with the discussions told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that New York held the line on including prospects Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial or Miguel Andujar in any trade, so the Pirates quickly had to shift their attention to other potential targets. One source said New York expressed a willingness to include outfielder Clint Frazier or pitcher Chance Adams in a package deal for Cole, but not both.
Similarly, Houston prospects Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher and Yordan Alvarez were off the table in general manager Jeff Luhnow's discussions with Huntington, sources said. The Pirates ultimately made the determination that the Musgrove-Moran tandem was superior to the top two players offered by the Yankees and other clubs that had expressed interest in Cole.
The Pirates also have a combined 15 years of team control with Moran, Musgrove and Feliz before they're eligible for free agency, compared to the two remaining years of control they had with Cole. That was an additional factor that weighed into their decision to accept Houston's offer, a source said.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole finished fourth in National League Cy Young voting in 2015 and made the All-Star team, but the right-hander was much less effective in his other four seasons. He put up career lows in several categories last season, including ERA, home run rate and FIP.
Luhnow said he thinks pitching coach Brent Strom can help Cole recapture his 2015 form.
"We expect him to bounce back and be a Cy Young contender,'' Luhnow said.
The Astros are adding Cole to a rotation that ranked sixth in the majors last season in ERA, WHIP, strikeout percentage and opponent batting average, according to ESPN Stats & Information. While Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock all had varying degrees of success last season, the Astros could use a consistent third starter behind Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander.
Some Astros appeared elated with the team's latest acquisition, tweeting:
Going for it. #BackToBack— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) January 14, 2018
Musgrove could take over Cole's spot in the rotation. The 25-year-old started 15 games for the Astros in 2017, posting a 4.77 ERA. He made seven relief appearances in the postseason and earned the win in Game 5 of the World Series after throwing one scoreless inning.
"Joe Musgrove fits the mold of most successful major league starting pitchers," Huntington said. "He is physical, athletic, has a multiple pitch arsenal and aptitude to attack major league hitters."
Moran is the nephew of former major leaguer B.J. Surhoff and could become a similar type of hitter, with high batting averages but only some power from the left side. The 25-year-old has been a career .290 hitter in the minor leagues since Miami selected him in the first round of the 2013 draft. Houston acquired the third baseman in a deal for pitcher Jarred Cosart and infielder Enrique Hernandez in 2014, and Moran took a step forward last season by hitting 18 home runs for Triple-A Fresno.
According to Huntington, Moran made an adjustment to his swing and approach, leading to "increased power production that should play very well at the major league level, especially at PNC Park."
Moran has primarily been a third baseman, though he has also played first base and left field. He was blocked at the hot corner in Houston by young slugger Alex Bregman but could pilfer at-bats from David Freese in Pittsburgh.
Feliz is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who struck out 13.13 batters per nine innings in 46 appearances last season. Despite that, he had a 5.63 ERA in part because of subpar control.
Martin is a left-handed-hitting outfielder who was selected in the eighth round of the 2013 draft. The 22-year-old batted .278 with 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases last season split between Class A Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi.
"[Martin] has been a productive hitter throughout his minor league career with the ability to get on base and hit for extra bases," said Huntington. "He also utilizes his speed well on defense. We are pleased to add him to our system."
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick and The Associated Press contributed to this report.