Gerrit Cole vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: Nobody Looks Good

Sep 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) pitches to Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (L) during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) pitches to Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (L) during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Ah, the classic case of star player vs. organization. This  has been a recurring theme ever since Curt Flood opened up the floodgates to free agency back in 1969. The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently dealing with this classic case, and unsurprisingly, it involves a client of the most infamous agent in sports, Scott Boras.

In case you haven’t been following this debacle between the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club and their #1 pitcher, Gerrit Cole, here is the 411. In the year of our Lord, 2015, Cole’s base salary was $531,000 and the hurler entitled himself to an extra $10,000 last season when he was selected to his first All-Star Game. Cole felt that his performance in 2015 called for an increase in his bank account, and looking at his productivity, he has a reasonable case. Cole finished last season with a record of 19-8 and an ERA of 2.60 and was unquestionably the anchor of the pitching staff for a vast majority of the campaign.

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The Pirates, however, did not oblige to Cole’s desires, as he revealed to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Not only did the club not meet Cole’s demands, according to the hurler,but they also threatened to cut his salary to the league minimum of $500,000. Now, it’s easy to see why Cole is upset about not getting his wallet fattened. After all, he has firmly established himself as the leader of a pretty good pitching rotation, and is one of the better starting pitchers in all of baseball. Cole also happens to be playing the sport that has the largest player salaries of them all, so $531,000 probably feels like minimum wage to the man, as far lesser players are doing a much better job of making bank. All things considered I do not blame Cole for being upset with the way everything has gone down, and I can understand him for going public with his grievances. Now, although the Pirates have not and probably will not give a whole lot of  their side of the story, here are some possible factors that make up their thought process.

  • At least up until this point, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been very good to Gerrit Cole.
  • This is the same club that put there faith in him by selecting him as the #1 overall pick in the draft back in 2011, and promptly payed him with an $8,000,000 signing bonus, the largest ever for a draft pick, which is something that Cole should keep in mind
  • Pittsburgh has also blessed Cole with the wonderful Ray Searage. Uncle Ray has payed divides to all successful Pirate pitchers, and Cole is no exception
  • Given Cole’s post-All-star Break struggles last summer, the Pirates may not feel the need to fatten his wallet just yet. It’s easier to give somebody a raise when they end the year on a high note.
  • They don’t like Scott Boras very much

Of course, Boras is baseballs most notorious super agent, as he has a load of notable clients that include Prince Fielder, Max Scherzer, Jason Werth and, most notably, Alex Rodriguez (the relationship ended after 2010). Due to the often unreasonable contract demands that Boras makes on behalf of his clients, he has become a common enemy of Major League Baseball executives. As a lot of you reading know, and as those who don’t can infer, Boras does indeed represent Gerrit Cole. The Pirates and Boras conflicted back in 2008, when Pedro Alvarez was selected out of Vanderbilt by the Bucs with the #2 overall pick. Alvarez was the best college hitter in the draft, and his agent was, amazingly enough, Scott Boras.

Since nothing ever comes easy with Mr. Boras, the team nearly lost out on Alvarez, until the two parties agreed to terms minutes before the August 15th signing deadline. Although the two parties agreed to a deal, Pedro did not sign on the dotted line until after the deadline had passed. Alvarez was placed on the restricted list after the MLBPA filed a grievance about players signing after the deadline, but things were eventually worked out when Pedro signed his contract on September 22nd.

This is hardly the only dispute involving Boras and Major League Baseball, and it is unclear how much of a grudge Neal Huntington and Frank Coonlley still have against Boras as a result of the Alvarez situation. However, because of the Pirates difficulties in dealing with Boras while negotiating with Alvarez and Gregory Polanco, I think it’s safe to assume that the Pirates along with every other team in the league think of Boras the way a dog thinks about a flea. It is also safe to assume that the Pirates would have an easier time giving Cole what he wants if he had any other agent.

Now regardless of who’s side you are on in this situation, this is, at the very least, giving bad PR to a franchise that does not need any more of it. Ever since the last out of the 2015 NL Wildcard Game, Huntington has nearly burned the city down by trading away the local hero, Neil Walker, and has not made matters any better by not going after any significant free agents to upgrade the club. It is no secret to any sports fan in this city that the Pittsburgh Pirates have developed a reputation for being moderate at best and cheap at worst when it comes to money. The biggest PR blunder, however, came in a short statement released by Huntington.

When the Pirates GM gave his take on the issue at hand, he acknowledged that the Pirates ”made a mistake” in not factoring in Cole’s $10,000 bonus, and that the error was corrected. The main gripe that I have with Huntington’s statement is that the man appears to not understand why Cole is upset. ”We’re ready to move forward, my belief is that he’s probably ready to move forward”, Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. ”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.”

So, Cole’s issue is that he does not feel that he is being paid what he is worth, which, bonus or no bonus, is well over what the Pirates are giving him. If Cole’s gripe is with somebody over than the Pirates, who is it then? The Pope? While I am aware that Huntington knows a lot more about this situation than I do, the two men’s statements do not seem to add up. It is somewhat concerning that the Pirates are not taking care of their homegrown stars, while at the same time, has given out larger salaries to lesser players such as Jose Tabata, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Karstens. I am hoping that Cole’s ending in Pittsburgh will not parallel that of Neil Walker’s. While the Pirate’s do not look great here, neither, necessarily, does Gerrit Cole.

While Cole has a right to be frustrated, and it is understandable that he went public with his grievance, he has to understand two things.

  • As said earlier in this lovely post, this is the same franchise that handed him an $8,000,000 signing bonus before he ever threw a professional pitch
  • Spring Training is a time when the team is supposed to be giving out an optimistic vibe for the season ahead, and Cole is not sending out that vibe. He should be focused on doing whatever he can do to help this team to the promised land.
  • While nobody looks good in the case of Cole vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, at the end of it all, none of this is a huge deal. The only  focus that anybody associated with the Pirates should have right now is getting ready for the season ahead, and for this team to do that, they cannot concern themselves with this type of business. Gerrit Cole is a good pitcher, and the Pirates are a smart baseball organization. There is a lot of doubt surrounding Huntington, Coonelly, Nutting, etc., but they have done a fabulous job in rebuilding this organization from utter garbage to prosperity, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt. So, as fans, all we can do is sit back, enjoy the show, and hope for the best. Let’s go Bucs!
Sep 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) pitches to Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (L) during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) pitches to Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (L) during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli (29) and starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) celebrate after Cervelli scored a run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli (29) and starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) celebrate after Cervelli scored a run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /