The more things change the more they seem the same. In 1987 the Cleveland Indians mistreated the face of their franchise causing the player to walk out of camp. Now, 29 years later the Pittsburgh Pirates have followed the Tribe’s lead and mishandled a simple pre-arbitration contract with Gerrit Cole.
After leading all of Major League baseball in RBI in 1986 the Cleveland Indians Senior Vice President Dan O’Brien made the decision to ignore Carter’s request of a modest raise ($437,000) and renewed his contract at a salary of $250,000 (up from $190,000 in 1986). The renewal led Carter to walk out of camp stating that “he’d been pushed too far.”
Unfortunately for Carter the Super 2 system was not in place (part of the 1990 Basic Agreement) and he was still 29 days shy of three years of service time. “Next year I’ll have three years in and I’ll set the rules.” Carter said. “What goes around comes around, I’ve dealt with them fairly but they haven’t done the same with me and my agent.”
The move was a public relations nightmare for the Indians and the negotiations eliminated any chance the Indians had of developing a long term relationship with one of their brightest young stars. It worked out well in the end for the Indians as prior to the 1990 season Carter was dealt to the San Diego Padres in a trade that paid dividends as they acquired Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, and Thomas Howard in the deal.
On Saturday afternoon n Bradenton Florida Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Rob Biertempfel reported that Gerrit Cole grudgingly signed a deal renewing him at the same $541,000 ($531,000 base + $10,000 bonus for All-Star game) that he made in 2015. (Even Joe Carter received a $60,000 raise in his salary that left him unhappy.)
Last season Cole delivered 208 high quality innings posting a 19-8 mark with a 2.60 ERA. Although not arbitration eligible he, like Carter before him, is just short of a big boost in salary ending the 2015 campaign just 29 days short of Super 2 status (2 years, 140 days).
According to Cole the Pirates initial offer was actually $538,000 which is less than his total compensation in 2015 and they refused to go above the $541,000 mark. “They even threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree.” Cole said.
According to Biertempfel, General Manager Neal Huntington did not respond to a request for comment about the situation but club officials said that the $538,000 represented the maximum raise a player can be awarded in the pre-arbitration salary negotiations.
Cole’s agent Scott Boras asked “What kind of message is that send to players?” Adding that if Cole played for the Mets he’d get well over $650,000. If he played for the Marlins he’d get more than the Pirates will pay.”
It does seem rather peculiar that a team with a commodity as dynamic and important as Gerrit Cole is would want to take every opportunity to keep him happy and reward him for his performance.
On the other hand, Cole is a Scott Boras client and the odds of a Chris Archer/Corey Kluber type long term extension are slim and none. The most likely outcome for the Pirates is that Cole is healthy and productive with them for the next two years and then he’s dealt for a package or players that lay the foundation for the future.
It could be said that the Indians ruined the chance at signing Carter to a long term extension when they renewed him as they did while the only side effect for the Pirates will be having a disgruntled player on their hands.
It should be noted, that however unhappy Carter may have been with the salary negotiations that led to him walking out of camp he was productive in 1987 batting .264/.304/.480 with 32 homers. Over the next three seasons with the Tribe he hit .259/.303/.474 with 94 homers.
Cole may be an unhappy Pirate but this most likely will not translate to a decline in performance on the mound. It will however lead to a very interesting exchange of arbitration numbers following the season.
Do the Pirates believe that the $8MM signing bonus paid to Cole after drafting him as the overall #1 pick in 2011 is the most reward he’s going to see? As if that $8MM is part of this pre-arbitration package?
In the end, the odds of extending Cole to a contract extension were slim and none prior to this fiasco but they could have handled the process with a lot more class than they did.
Image Credit: (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)