On Saturday, Gerrit Cole voiced displeasure with the Pittsburgh Pirates for their modest contract offer to the Cy Young-caliber ace. The team responded Sunday, admitting it made a mistake in how it handled negotiations.
The Pirates initially offered their No. 1 starter a $538,000 contract—a $7,000 increase in his base salary from a year ago. However, Cole’s earnings reached $541,000 after he received a $10,000 bonus for making the All-Star team.
So they were essentially asking the hard-hurling right-hander, who finished fourth in Cy Young voting last year, to take a pay cut.
"We made a mistake in the process,” general manager Neal Huntington said, per the Associated Press. "We didn't have to move [the figure]. We felt they made a valid point, [and] we made the adjustment.”
Cole, 25, isn’t arbitration-eligible until next year and remains under club control until 2019.
The Pirates cited club policy to not exceed a pay raise of $7,000 for players who are not arbitration-eligible. Cole said Huntington and his staff threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum of $507,500 if he didn’t agree to their offer, per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Cole was 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA last season and started for the Pirates in their do-or-die National League Wild Card Game against the Chicago Cubs.
The 98-win team from a year ago was vested in him, but it didn’t show as much in contract negotiations.
"When you perform at a level that draws the praise of management, teammates, coaches and fans, you expect appropriate compensation," Cole said, per Biertempfel. "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."
Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, was outraged by the offer. He acknowledged the collectively bargained system that keeps players under club control for eight years is flawed but argued other teams would’ve rewarded Cole as a sign of good faith, per Biertempfel:
"What kind of message does that send to players? 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."
Yet Huntington fell back on the CBA when making his case for why the team didn’t offer Cole more, per the AP:
Gerrit strikes a note that most people can empathize with. I'm sure there are many people in this world who don't feel they are adequately compensated for what they do. The challenge we have is there is a collectively bargained system in place and it's been in place for years.
Once you make an exception, how do you draw the line? If it's only for MVPs, what if someone wins a Cy Young? Or what if someone finishes fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting? Some clubs have the ability to go in different directions, higher or lower. We believe our system is consistent and it's the right way to do things for us.
The Pirates have reached the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, ending a drought that dated to 1991. But they've played in the NL Wild Card Game in each of those years, hosting all three, and have only advanced once.
It won't get an easier in an incredibly competitive NL Central, which last year housed the the three teams with the best records in baseball. Cole will be a major catalyst for Pittsburgh as it seeks its first division crown in 25 years.
Cole said he doesn’t want the Pittsburgh clubhouse to “question the virtue” of the organization, per Biertempfel, but the team’s ace and his aggressive agent will likely keep this year’s negotiations in mind when they are eligible for arbitration after the season ends.