Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gerrit Cole and a Brutal, Misfocused 72-Hour News Cycle for the Pirates

I think now everybody has taken their shot at the Pirates.

I'm sure you've seen the story. Late Saturday night it was reported the team had offered Gerrit Cole a paycut after a 2015 season where he finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. Less than 16 hours later the beat writer who broke the original story wrote another about how Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington admitted the Pirates made a mistake:
“We made a mistake in the process,” Huntington said. “We've owned that. We'll evolve. Our hope is that Gerrit is ready to move forward and put this behind him.”
Under baseball's rules, Gerrit Cole is an indentured servant, like every other player, until he accrues three years of service time. During those three years, as long as a MLB team offers a player at least the league minimum salary of $507,000, the player has no recourse. The Pirates made Cole and his agent Scott Boras a contract offer of $538,000. It turns out that number happened to be $3,000 less than the $541,000 Cole earned last year. Depending how you want to slice it Cole actually got a raise. His 2015 salary was $531,000 and he also received a $10,000 bonus for making the All-Star team. Assuming a similar bonus was in effect with the Pirates offer this season, there isn't much of story here. In any business, bonuses are different than base salaries. Raises come off the base salary. Cole got a raise, small as it is, from $531K to $538K. But he wasn't guaranteed to make more money than he did last year. And that set off the alarm bells for Scott Boras and got all of baseball focused on the Pirates in the lull before spring training games commenced.

Boras saw blood in the water and wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to turn the story into a national feeding-frenzy with the Pirates as the chum. Not surprisingly, he spoke up,
“When you have a system that doesn't account for special performances by a player, it doesn't reward those achievements,” Boras said.
A bit more surprising was the fact that Gerrit Cole commented as well,
“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 told the Tribune-Review.
I have no problem with Cole voicing his opinion. He is the new Pirates player rep having taken over for Neil Walker. Maybe both he and Boras thought this was a good way to make an impression on his teammates and the Players' Union about being a vocal contributor in his new role. Fine.

The issue I do have a problem with is Cole's revelation the Pirates actually "threatened" to cut his pay back to the minimum of $507K if he didn't sign the deal that was offered. Players actually have no obligation to sign the actual contract and more than one player has played out the season without signing, viewing that as their only available form of protest. But I don't even know where to go with the thought the Pirates actually played the real paycut-card. It's hard to believe anyone with any authority in the organization would suggest that to either Boras or Cole. If there is a story, this is it and it should be addressed.

But it's worth pointing out again, that the Pirates immediately admitted to making a mistake. The clerical process of submitting Cole's contract to his agent is about five pay-grades below Neal Huntington's duties. The team obviously wasn't factoring in bonuses to formulaic, rubber-stamped pay increases. Someone messed up and the Pirates are getting bombarded with bad PR. Buster Olney took his shot at the Bucs and their "penny-foolish" ways. Joe Posnanski dropped Cole's tale of woe into a larger story of today's player economics and my friend Dave Schoenfield, who I think missed the mark, compared the Cole situation to the Royals extension of catcher Salvador Perez.

I am the last to defend the Pirates and Bob Nutting's frugal ways. I have spent the last four months on my show on ESPN Pittsburgh (and the three years prior) ripping the team for their limited, self-imposed budget and a starting rotation that is to include Jeff Locke and more-shockingly, free agent Ryan Vogelsong to open the season. Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Elias Diaz and Alen Hanson and their corresponding minimum salaries of $507K are all expected to matriculate to the majors over the next 12-18 months. In addition, more than $25+ million in salaries will be coming off the books next year with Mark Melancon ($9.65M), Michael Morse (~$5M), Neftali Feliz ($3.9M),  Francisco Cervelli ($3.5M), Juan Nicasio ($3M) and Sean Rodriguez ($2.5M) all becoming free agents and likely to leave. This season seemed the perfect year to spend a bit more to supplement one of the best rosters in baseball with more starting pitching depth as payroll is likely to fall next year. The Pirates didn't do that. And if they miss the playoffs while waiting for Glasnow & Taillon to develop, and more-pointedly get past the Super-2 window, there should be hell to pay. But after winning 94, 88 and 98 games the last three years under Nutting's Draconian financial policies, Neal Huntington deserves the benefit of the doubt. We'll see.

But that's the real story. That the Pirates didn't supplement a roster of 22-23 players that is as good as any in the game, not that the Pirates made a mistake over $3K with Cole. Yesterday the Cardinals renewed pitcher Michael Wacha, a close comp to Cole in both service-time and performance, at $539K. Not a word was heard. The Mets renewed Noah Syndergaard at $531,875. Not a mention. The Pirates made a small mistake and Scott Boras pounced, undoubtedly with larger motives at work. With rosters mostly finalized and spring training games not yet underway, everyone was looking for any story to fill the news cycle. They got one. One that focused on a frugal, cheap if you prefer, and foolish decision by the Pirates. Unfortunately the media focused on the wrong Pirates financial story.

Not that they did it on purpose, but I wonder if the Pirates actually prefer it that way?


  1. Well summarized. Boras made his point. Hopefully Cole's feathers weren't ruffled as badly as it appears in print.

  2. When it comes time, Cole will make HUGE dollars and with Scott Boras as his agent there won't now and never would have been a chance the he would sign for $3000/yr. less to stay with the Pirates. The "highest bidder" Boras posture must take the good with the bad.

  3. DT, I don't always agree with you, but value your opinion highly enough to both read, listen to and follow you on Twitter. But I think this column is terrific, and I hope many Pirate fans alo get to see it. What I don't understand however is how people like Posnanski, Schoenfield and Olney continue to buy any of Boras' BS in these situations. And, their failure to follow up their criticism of NH,the Pirates' FO and Nutting with reporting on Wacha and Syndergaard's salarie " raises " leaves them wide open for criticism. To me, it speaks to their very credibility, which I had a less than a high opinion of in the first place. However, I am certainly looking forward to more of your opinions and podcasts. Leo Walter

  4. No one is mentioning the $8 million Cole got as a signing bonus which is the investment they make to determine if the player works out. All in all he is making 2.5 million a year plus the contract until he becomes arbitration eligible.

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  6. The Pirates (under the Nutting Regime) do business to an extreme.
    I have never gotten the feeling that they really and truly "want" to win.
    I believe they are happy to compete, leave it at that....And bank a high percentage of the profits.
    In the mean time, they have convinced a certain faction of their fans that this is fine, and this is the way to go.

    For several years now, I have been a firm believer that they have a highly imposed budget....Better known as the Nutting Cap.
    As pointed out by many, any business has a budget.
    However, the Pirates take it to the ultimate extreme AND stick to it no matter what the situation might be.
    That includes a chance to go to the World Series.
    This is a key reason why we have seen them end around 9th/10 the past couple of seasons in the race to win a championship.
    The type of wallet tightness that the Nutting Regime practices will not get them to the promised land in MLB....Better known as a World Series Championship.

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