The Pirates announced they will receive four players—infielder Colin Moran, pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz and outfielder Jason Martin—in exchange for Cole.
The 27-year-old pitcher has been the subject of rampant trade rumors and speculation throughout the offseason. MLB.com's Jon Morosi even reported Wednesday the Pirates and Astros had agreed on a deal, though that turned out not to be the case at that time.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow even addressed the speculation.
"We do not have a deal," Luhnow told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. "We are working on multiple things, but nothing is imminent."
The Pirates were entering a dangerous position in 2018 and had to make a choice of either trying to go all in to win with their current core of talent or taking a long-term outlook on things.
Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is scheduled to become a free agent after next season. Cole, Ivan Nova, David Freese and Francisco Cervelli are under team control through 2019.
After going 75-87 in 2017, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington made the call to deal Cole in an effort to bring in a strong package of talent for his team as it looks to avoid a significant drop-off when all those deals expire.
Cole has been inconsistent throughout his MLB career. He has a 3.50 ERA with 749 hits allowed and 734 strikeouts in 782.1 innings in five seasons.
Despite making a career-high 33 starts in 2017, Cole posted his worst ERA (4.26), worst home run rate (1.4 per nine innings) and second-most hits allowed per nine innings (8.8).
Even with those lackluster stats last season, Cole is the kind of pitcher the Astros can afford to take a chance on.
He's under team control for two years, adds depth to a starting rotation that features Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander and didn't cause the Astros to empty their loaded farm system to make the deal happen.
Musgrove did appear in 38 games for the Astros last season, posting a 4.77 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 109.1 innings.
Moran hit .301/.369/.532 in 82 minor league games last season, and Martin had a slash line of .278/.332/.487 in 125 games across two levels.
The Astros won the 2017 World Series at least in part because Luhnow was able to strike a surprise deal with the Detroit Tigers for Verlander on Aug. 31.
That first taste of success has given Luhnow the ability to make more moves as he looks to establish the talent-rich Astros as a potential dynasty in the American League.
Cole gets a chance to play for one of the best teams in MLB with a legitimate chance to a win another championship in 2018. His focus will be on proving himself as a dominant starter, as he's shown at times in the past, to ensure Houston's investment in him is a win for both parties.