Culture / Sporting Life

Untouchable Kyle Tucker is the Best Part of Astros’ Gerrit Cole Trade and Sweet Yankees Block

What Luhnow Didn’t Give Up Makes This Deal a Steal

BY // 01.14.18

Celebrate Gerrit Cole becoming a Houston Astro, but the best part of this trade is who isn’t leaving. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow smartly treated the sweet-swinging Kyle Tucker and fireballing Forrest Whitley as the untouchables they should be.

Heck, Luhnow even managed to also somehow hold onto Derek Fisher, the rookie who scored the winning run in that epic 13-12 World Series Game 5 with a bit of inspired pinch running.

This is the real win of the first trade of what Alex Bregman’s rightly dubbed the Back-to-Back Tour. Well that and blocking the New York Yankees — who once again figure to be the biggest obstacle between the Astros and the World Series in the American League — from acquiring Cole themselves.

Don’t get the wrong idea. Cole could prove to be a very valuable arm. He’s a former No. 1 overall pick, still only 27 and the holder of a career 3.50 ERA. The Astros brass will no doubt convince Cole of the wisdom of throwing more off-speed pitches and get him to stop predictably relying so much on his fastball (the pitch on which he surrendered 18 of his 31 season-deflating home runs in 2017).

But even if Cole makes as dramatic a transformation with the Astros as his former Pirates teammate Charlie Morton did, having Tucker and Whitley is still more important.

These are the types of talents that could help fuel a potential dynasty, some of the most valuable commodities in baseball.

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Luhnow refused to give up Bregman for Chris Sale — one of the most dominant starters in the game, a rare true No. 1 — last offseason. Even after Bregman emerged as one of the Astros’ most important emotional drivers and a true clutch postseason game changer, that refusal is still debatable. Sale is that good.

But there is no way Luhnow could turn around and trade Tucker, who could turn into a better hitter than Bregman, for a much, much less valuable pitcher (Cole) just a year later.

Kyle Tucker’s Smooth Power, Brian Cashman’s Loss

I happened to be stranded in Frisco of all places for part of Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath — and the Astros’ AA affiliate Corpus Christi Hooks was in town for a series. This gave me the chance to watch Tucker for several days. Until you see the 6-foot-4 still-skinny 20-year-old prospect, who can seem like he’s all long arms and legs, in person, repeating his smooth swing over and over again, it’s easy to assume he has to be overhyped.

He’s not. Instead, Tucker looks like a future .300 hitter with 35 home run and maybe 20-plus steals potential (his lanky frame may have him running less in the big leagues). You cannot give that up for a Gerrit Cole.

Luhnow didn’t have to, sending the ever-rebuilding Pirates lower-end starter Joe Musgrove, third baseman Colin Moran, relief pitcher Michael Feliz and outfielder Jason Martin. That’s beyond win-win. If Luhnow isn’t careful, he may develop a Danny Ainge-like reputation of winning every trade, making teams more hesitant to deal with him.

The Astros GM could absolutely not give up Tucker or Whitley. And he didn’t. Yet, Cole is somehow still a new Astro. And Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is still scrambling for another answer.

“We’re excited about this move,” Luhnow says. “This move gives us a better chance over the next two years to repeat and hopefully get another championship. That’s been our goal all along, to get to the point of competitiveness and win a championship — and hopefully win multiple championships. This is the type of move that helps us come closer to that goal.”

The Astros will have Cole for at least the next two seasons — and in a league where you can never have enough quality pitching, that’s no small thing.

On the same day that Luhnow completed the trade for Cole, an absolute army of fans descended on Minute Maid Park for the team’s completely sold-out FanFest, providing visual proof of how this is clearly the most beloved sports franchise in Houston right now. The defending World Series champions are beyond hot.

And Luhnow’s only turning up the stove even more.  Gerrit Cole is an Astro. More importantly, Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley still are too.

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