Pirates mistake that trimmed Cole's salary corrected
February 28, 2016 1:38 PM
Pittsburgh Pirates Gerrit Cole delivers a pitch against the Cubs during the NL Wild Card game at PNC Park on Oct. 7, 2015. The Pirates revamped their algorithm that determines salaries for players not yet eligible for arbitration as a result of a contract dispute with the pitcher.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — When negotiating Gerrit Cole’s contract for 2016, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday, the club made a mistake, offering Cole a contract that would have represented a pay cut after a tremendous season.
The mistake changed the way the team will handle such contracts in the future. Cole voiced his displeasure over the weekend to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. His quarrel is partially with the Pirates, but it is also with the system.
“We’re ready to move forward, my belief is that he’s probably ready to move forward,” Huntington said. “He said what he has to say; we respect his ability to say what he has to say. Not sure his gripe is completely with us.”
Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training from Bradenton
Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers work at covering home plate on a wild pitch during morning workouts at Pirate City in Bradenton Florida. (Video by Peter Diana 2/28/2016)
Cole, who declined to comment for this story, has two years and 111 days of major league service time in a system where a “year” of service time equals 172 days. To reach free agency, players need six years of service time. When they get three years (or two, if they fall just short of three), the arbitration process determines their salary.
Most teams, including the Pirates, have algorithms that determine pre-arbitration salaries for players like Cole, who have between zero and three years of service time. The Pirates’ program takes into account service time, playing time and performance.
“We believe that we want to treat our players consistently across the board,” Huntington said.
If the Pirates and players like Cole cannot agree on a contract, the team can unilaterally renew the contract for whatever salary it chooses. As long as the salary is at or above the major league minimum of $507,500, the team has the final say and the player has no leverage. They later earn higher salaries through arbitration, and with free agency comes the possibility for lucrative, multimillion-dollar contracts.
Cole, a 25-year-old right-hander, earned $531,000 in 2015, when he had a 2.60 ERA in 208 innings and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. He also made the All-Star team, which triggered a $10,000 bonus.
The Pirates offered Cole a salary for 2016 with a higher base rate than 2015, but one that would fall short of his $541,000 total earnings including his All-Star bonus.
“[Cole and his agent, Scott Boras] pointed [out] to us that we made the mistake and didn’t factor it in, and that we were based solely on base salary and not last year’s earnings,” Huntington said. “We acknowledge that. We didn’t have to move. We felt like they made a valid point.”
The Pirates increased their offer after Cole and Boras noted the absence of the bonus in the initial offer. Boras did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Cole was disappointed in the offer, he told the Tribune-Review, but he agreed to it. He will make $541,000 in 2016, which Huntington said is the highest in franchise history for a pre-arbitration player with two-plus years of service time, with another $10,000 All-Star bonus.
There is precedent for teams to pay pre-arbitration players significantly more than the standard salary. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout earned $1 million in 2014, a record salary for a pre-arbitration player, after finishing as the runner-up for the AL MVP in two consecutive seasons. Albert Pujols made $900,000 in 2003 after finishing second in the NL MVP voting the year before, and Ryan Howard made $900,000 after hitting 58 home runs and winning the NL MVP in 2006.
“Once you make an exception, how do you draw the line at what the next exception is?” Huntington said. “We’re cognizant that other teams have made exceptions. It’s always easy to grab one side of the argument and run with it, especially when that side of the argument is made very public.”
Cole now has an avenue to try to influence the pre-arbitration salary system in the negotiations for the next CBA; the current one expires in December. Saturday, he became the Pirates’ union representative.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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