Gerrit Cole’s 2016 Salary
The Pittsburgh Pirates have forced Gerrit Cole to accept a $541,000 salary, and Cole is not happy about it. He has every right to be unhappy, because the Pirates’ final offer is obviously low-ball, and, I think, ultimately counter-productive for the team.
In my mind, Cole is worth the $750,000 the SF Giants gave Madison Bumgarner in 2013, even taking into account the different revenue streams of the club, and the fact that Bumgarner’s Giants went deeper in the post-season. In any event, it’s barely worth the savings not to give him even $600,000.
The Pirates have been very clear about why they are low-balling Cole: because under the collective bargaining agreement they can. However, it creates a situation where, even before Cole has reasonably peaked, he almost certainly won’t be with the team by the time he earns his free agency after the 2019 season.
You can put some of the blame on Cole and his agent Scott Boras in the sense that a player of Cole’s caliber rarely retains Scott Boras unless he wants to make as much money as he possibly can. At least that is the reputation Boras has throughout the baseball world, and he isn’t famed for counseling his player to agree to long-term, home-town discount contracts early in their careers before they reach free agency.
A strategy that I think would work a lot better for small-market teams like the Bucs than the one the Pirates are currently using is to give the small guarantees they want to give, but then offer a lot of incentive clauses.
In fact, one of the complaints Cole had was that the Bucs initially offered him $538,000 for 2016 when he had actually earned $541,000 in 2015 due to receiving a $10,000 bonus for making the 2015 NL All-Star team. The Bucs then bumped their offer to $541,000, an amount the team claims “blows up” their pre-arbitration salary scale.
With Cole eligible for arbitration next off-season, there was no good reason for the Bucs not to give Cole much more substantial bonus clauses than he received last year. For example, giving Cole a $30,000 bonus for each of 20, 25, 30 and 32 games (or for 45, 55, 60 and 65 appearances, if he’s transferred to the bullpen), a $30,000 bonus for making the 2016 All-Star team and $100,000 for winning the Cy Young Award, would at least give Cole a chance to earn more if he pitches as well or better than he did in 2015. I always believe in incentivizing good performance, particularly when you are dealing by nature with professional athletes.
Cole is a pitcher who helped the Bucs make the post-season three years in a row. That’s worth a whole lot more than raises limited to a few thousand dollars per season just because the team can.
If you want players to be loyal to your organization, so that more of them do sign contracts that give the team a discount in exchange for guaranteed money, don’t stick it to them as much as you can when they haven’t reached arbitration yet.