Last season, the Pirates played their way to a playoff berth after a 98-win campaign, led by their third-year ace pitcher. In 32 regular season starts, Cole went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA through 208 innings, finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young award voting.
However, since Cole has less than three years of service time, the Pirates are enabled to pay him any salary they choose. Both sides agreed to a one-year deal worth $541,000 for 2016, but Cole revealed to Biertempfel that the Pirates “threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree.”
The current minimum salary in the MLB is $507,500.
As Biertempfel notes, that $541,000 figure matches Cole’s income from last year, as he earned a $531,000 base salary with an additional $10,000 for making his first NL All-Star team. Cole also mentioned that the Pirates’ initial offer to him was $538,00, below his salary last season.
Cole’s agent Scott Boras chimed in on the situation, saying that a player of Cole’s talent and past success should be rewarded for his efforts.
“What kind of message does that send to players?” Boras said. “The best deserve the best. You should reward the best. I can’t believe that is a Bob Nutting-approved [salary] system. It doesn’t ring with the conversations Bob and I had when Gerrit signed.”
According to the report, the Pirates’ reasoning for the lowball salary is their policy of not giving players who are not arbitration-eligible a raise of over $7,000. Cole will be arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career after this upcoming season, at which point, he will go through the process three times before reaching free agency for the first time in 2020.
For now, Cole will play for a nearly league-minimum salary in 2016. In a way, Cole becomes a victim of his own success — whether it be his team’s policy or the way the system is structured in general. However, Boras feels the real issue is the Pirates’ conservative spending, something that would likely not have been an issue in other organizations.
“I would think Bob would want to reward a guy for a special performance. Other teams have that system. If Gerrit was with the Mets, he’d get well over $650,000. If he was with the Marlins, he’d get more [than the Pirates will pay].”
Since making his debut for the Pirates during the 2013 season, Cole, a former first overall pick in the 2011 draft has been one of the NL’s most effective starters. Over the course of his 73 career starts, Cole has compiled a 40-20 record with a 3.07 ERA through 463-and-one-third innings.
While names such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and 2015 NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta have dominated the league in recent years, Cole has quietly but effectively been a top pitcher. The 25-year-old is expected to reprise the role of ace pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation this upcoming season.
Cole made it clear in speaking to Biertempfel that he does not want this situation to be a distraction for the team. However, under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), several issues will need to be addressed next time around. In addition to draft pick compensation causing free agents problems, players coming off career years will need to be rewarded accordingly.
“When you perform at a level that draws the praise of management, teammates, coaches and fans, you expect appropriate compensation. I understand the business of this game, but it is hard to accept that a year of performance success does not warrant an increase in pay.”
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