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What if the Twins had traded for Gerrit Cole?

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Because these are always useful exercises

World Series - Houston Astros v Washington Nationals - Game Five Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

What if the Twins had traded for Gerrit Cole?

These are always interesting questions to ask, if somewhat pointless. But when you’re talking about the current best starting pitcher in the big leagues, who also happens to be a free agent (soon to sign with the Yankees, happy holidays everyone), it becomes a very interesting question.

So had the Twins been able to pull off a Gerrit Cole trade in the 2017-2018 off season, when they were negotiating for him, let’s assume they don’t trade for Jake Odorizzi (who they got instead). What would they have had to trade for Cole?

Let’s start with what the Astros sent over to Pittsburgh for a pre-superhuman Cole. A young and average starter/reliever (Joe Musgrove), a system top-ten pitching prospect (Michael Feliz), a system top-15 prospect (outfielder Jason Martin), and a former league-wide top-100 prospect (infielder Colin Moran). A comparable package from the Twins could be some combination of Nick Gordon/Wander Javier, two of Brusdar Graterol/Lewis Thorpe/Zack Littell, and either Akil Baddoo or Lamonte Wade. Not bad. I’d make that trade.

So now he’s on the Twins. There’s two ways we can go from here.

Scenario 1: We assume that Cole goes from the good but unremarkable pitcher he was in Pittsburgh to the force he became on the Astros.

Scenario 2: We don’t.

Scenario 1 is the best case. Replace Odorizzi and his 4.49 ERA with Cole’s 2.88 over an extra 40 innings, and the Twins win some more ballgames. They probably still don’t make the playoffs in 2018. In 2019, the Twins probably get an extra home game, and likely win at least one playoff game against the Yankees. Simply swapping Odorizzi for Cole likely doesn’t move the needle enough for the Twins to get to the top. However, you could possibly assume a domino effect where the Twins make some more moves to put them into a stronger position. Impossible to intelligently analyze, but possible. In all likelihood, we end up here today, with Cole on the free agent market and likely to leave for a bigger market. I need to turn down the optimism, I know.

Scenario 2 is more likely in my opinion. The Astros have some kind of methodology (or they’re cheating, which would be a big surprise) where they take decent pitchers, and make them studs. Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, an aging Justin Verlander... somehow, the Astros awoke the sleeping giant in all of these guys. If you average out the ERA+ of the four seasons prior to joining the Astros for each of these guys, you’ll find two slightly above-average pitchers and one slightly below-average. Since then (sample sizes of two, three, and three years), you find Cy Young candidates. Verlander and Morton have had 133% improvements in (three-year average) ERA+ compared to their four years prior to joining, and both of these pitchers were seasoned veterans at that point in their careers. Cole, who is easily the youngest of the trio, saw a 144% improvement. I think we can all agree the Twins have not enjoyed that same result after acquiring pitchers. So while Cole likely would have seen some improvement due to his age, I don’t think we can say he becomes the menace on the mound that he is today. Would he be better than most of the Twins’ starters over the past two years? Yes. Would he have been a major difference-maker? Probably not. He’d likely be considered in the Bumgarner-Ryu-Wheeler free agency tier this year, or even at the top of the next tier. Probably would have been more likely to go home to the Angels than stay with the Twins or get signed by the Evil Empire.

Poll

Would Gerrit Cole have made a major difference on the outcomes of the past two Twins seasons?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Yes
    (190 votes)
  • 46%
    No
    (168 votes)
358 votes total Vote Now