By Jeff Todd

The Astros have struck a deal to acquire right-hander Gerrit Cole from the Pirates, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network (via Twitter). The return has yet to be reported.

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Cole, now 27, was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. He ascended quickly to become Pittsburgh’s top pitcher, though he has not exactly been at his peak of late. In 2017, he worked to a 4.26 ERA in 203 frames. Clearly, though, Houston still believes it is getting a top-flight starter to fill out the team’s rotation as it embarks upon a World Series defense. Cole will cost a projected $7.5MM in 2018 with one more season of arbitration control thereafter.

With the swap, the Pirates are not necessarily giving up all hope on the coming season, but their 2018 expectations will clearly take a significant hit. The team does still have a variety of rotation options in-house, along with a reputation for finding gems at a bargain rate on the open market. For a low-budget organization, this sort of re-shuffling is a frequent, if sometimes frustrating, necessity.

Having cut ties with Cole, it stands to reason that the Bucs will be more willing than ever to part with long-time star Andrew McCutchen. That’s just one possible element of the fallout from this agreement, though. Houston had been one of the most notable potential suitors for top free agent starters, up to and including Yu Darvish. Now that they have landed Cole, they’re likely out on Darvish and others, which may help give clarity to that market. And having parted with young talent to boost the rotation, it’s fair to wonder whether Houston will look to free agency to finish compiling its bullpen.

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