Ron Cook: Gerrit Cole case for Pirates -- business or baseball

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Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will give the ball to rookie phenom Gerrit Cole tonight for his start against the Los Angeles Angels. Television ratings for Root Sports should be through the roof for the late-night game. Cole made history by beating former Cy Young Award winners in his first two starts. He has a town that is starving for a baseball winner throbbing.

Just one word of caution:


Cole likely is headed back to the minor leagues soon.

Sure, it's not impossible for Cole to stick in the big leagues the rest of this season. A no-hitter tonight would help keep him here. A run of 10 consecutive wins also would be nice. But short of one of those things happening, it's almost a certainty that Cole will go back to Class AAA -- if only for a week or 10 days -- to assure that he won't become a Super 2 player.

I'm just telling ya.

Here's the deal:

The top 22 percent of players with the most major-league service time between two and three years will become eligible for salary arbitration after the 2015 season. Hence, the term Super 2. The other 78 percent won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2016 season. The difference could mean millions to the players and the clubs.

In any case, Cole won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season.

Most experts predict the key date this season to determine Super 2 status was somewhere between June 10-20. Cole made his big-league debut June 11. "We don't know," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said when asked if Cole stayed in the minors long enough to avoid becoming a Super 2. "It's a moving target."

This isn't just significant to a small-market team such as the Pirates. The New York Mets waited until Tuesday -- June 18 -- to promote highly regarded pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. The Tampa Bay Rays didn't call up hitting prospect extraordinaire Wil Myers until Tuesday.

It's fair to think the Pirates were just a bit too quick in bringing Cole to the majors. Huntington acknowledged it will "look like a bad business decision" if Cole ends up qualifying for Super 2 status by a matter of days.

Huntington disputes the widely held theory that Cole didn't start the season with the Pirates and was kept at Indianapolis to delay the start of his arbitration clock. He insists Cole wasn't ready for the big leagues. "People forget about his April and May." Cole gave up 11 earned runs in 112/3 innings in consecutive starts in mid-May. He was much better after that, pitching 19 consecutive scoreless innings over three starts before his promotion.

The Pirates called up Cole because of an injury to starter Wandy Rodriguez. He made a strong debut in an 8-2 win against the San Francisco Giants and pitcher Tim Lincecum, pitching 61/3 innings, allowing two runs and seven hits with no walks. "We felt he gave us our best chance to win that game," Huntington said. Cole wasn't quite as impressive in his second start Sunday, although he got the win in a 6-3 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers and pitcher Zack Greinke.

Huntington understands the excitement Cole has created, but he hasn't been shy about trying to tone it down. "I'm trying to rein in the hyperbole train," he told this week. He has talked of Cole's secondary pitches -- his curveball, slider and changeup -- needing work. He has gone as far as to hint the Pirates might have rushed Cole to the big leagues.

For pitching reasons, Huntington said.

For financial reasons, it says here.

"We've said all along we want to pay our players because that will mean they have been successful," Huntington said.

That doesn't mean the Pirates will make a "bad business decision" with Cole. Huntington is too smart for that, working, as he does, for owner Bob Nutting, who has never been known for big spending. Cole will be sent out at some point this season. It might be because of his performance. Or it might be because injured starters Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett return to the rotation. But it will happen.

That's just good, smart business.

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Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published June 21, 2013 4:00 AM


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