Cole joins staff filled with aces

By Joshua Koch

The Associated Press

HOUSTON — Gerrit Cole is joining a rotation filled with aces.

“I was just tremendously excited,” Cole said Wednesday, four days after the Houston Astros acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I was out with some friends having a good time for my wife’s birthday weekend. So, it was a really good phone call. How you can ask for anything more than coming to the World Series champions.”

Wearing a No. 45 uniform, the 27-year-old right-hander was introduced at Minute Maid Park. He was obtained for right-handed reliever Michael Feliz, right-hander Joe Musgrove, infielder Colin Moran and outfield prospect Jason Martin.

Houston ace Dallas Keuchel was joined late last season by Justin Verlander, who helped the Astros win their first championship.

“I’m certainly happy with the depth of this rotation,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s hard to argue the quality we can throw out there every day if we are healthy and if we continue to push forward.”

Cole was 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA last year, leaving him 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in 127 big league starts.

He will make $6.75 million in 2018, is arbitration eligible again next winter and can be a free agent after the 2019 season. The New York Yankees, who lost Game 7 of the AL Championship Series to the Astros, were thought to be interested in Cole.

“We had some chips to give up, so maybe they didn’t have the depth on that side,” owner Jim Crane said. “Any time we can beat the Yankees, that’s good.”

Keuchel won the 2015 AL Cy Young Award. Verlander earned the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP honors.

“I’m sure he has a wealth of knowledge that he has accumulated winning Cy Youngs and World Series,” Cole said. “I don’t anticipate learning one or two specific things. I’m just looking forward to playing next to him. He is somebody that every right-handed power pitcher has looked up to. Just a cool opportunity to be able to work with somebody that good.”

Among Astros pitchers, Cole is familiar with Charlie Morton, his former Pirates teammate.

“Charlie has been a good friend of mine ever since I came up,” Cole said. “He’s got nothing but wonderful things to say about the organization, the city, the fans. He has really enjoyed his time here. He’s excited to play with me again, I’m excited to play with him again. Just a lot of great feelings.”

Following the trade, Cole heard from Astros catcher Brian McCann.

“We talked a little bit about his career and mine and tried to get to know each other a little bit,” Cole said. “He gave me a few insights on his philosophy. How he likes to work, how he likes to communicate with his starting pitchers. Other than that it was a hello and welcome to the club.”

Fans want Nutting

to sell Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Some Pittsburgh Pirates fans are signing a petition to express their frustration following the team’s decision to trade star outfielder Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants.

As of Wednesday, more than 28,000 fans signed a petition on asking Major League Baseball to force Pirates owner Bob Nutting to sell the team.

Writing “we deserve better,” the petition’s starters aim to reach 35,000 signatures to protest the direction Nutting and the front office have taken in the offseason. Pittsburgh sent top starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to Houston on Saturday, then sent McCutchen to the Giants, shedding the organization of $20 million in salary in the process.

The Pirates, who reached the playoffs three straight seasons from 2013-15, have finished below .500 each of the last two years.

Nutting, who took over as the team’s principal owner in 2007, called the decision to trade McCutchen the most difficult of his tenure.