SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Gerrit Cole has been in the big leagues 121 days, counting the postseason. He is five seasons from free agency.
His agent is Scott Boras.
Yet, it might be the perfect time to talk long-term deal with the rookie.
In December of 2011, the Rays agreed to an eight-year, $39.5 million deal with rookie lefty Matt Moore. It was the most money ever guaranteed to a pitcher with so little service time.
Considering one win above replacement is valued at about $5 million on the free agent market, the opportunity to buy out arbitration years and several free agency years of a potential front-of-the-rotation arm is a grand bargain for clubs.
Such a deal does place risk on the club. Pitchers have a higher likelihood of injury than position players. But clubs have to have elite pitching to be postseason contenders as we’ve seen again this fall. The Pirates are not going to have the chance to draft and develop many, if any, arms like Cole, and they’ll never have more leverage to negotiate a long-term contract.
Now, Cole arrived earlier to the majors than Moore in his debut season so he’ll have more service time. Still, when accounting for one year of service time, why not offer Cole seven years and say $42 million this offseason? That would buy out one year of free agency and three years of arbitration.
It’s not a lose-lose for Cole.
Cole would become a free agent at 30 and would have earned more than $50 million in his career when including his signing bonus. Moreover, he could still enjoy a free agency megadeal. But the Pirates would have his prime and he would be cost-controlled.
Of course that Boras is his agent makes and that complicates matters.
One issue is Boras is not a fan of the trend of team-friendly deals that buyout arbitration and free agency years of young stars. More than 50 such deals have been signed in recent years. But Boras does not believe in trading risk (injury) for financial security (millions garutneed). He believes in chasing maximum value.
“My job is to teach our players to [maximize their value],” Boras says, “and I can’t fathom how [any agent] would give direction to players [to sign] contracts of this nature at that young of an age.”
Still, at the end of the day the client says ‘Yes’ or ‘No” and perhaps like Moore, like Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner – other young 20s arms who have signed deals to trade risk for security – Cole and his family might be more open to this than his agent.
And while much of the offseason hot-stove talk will focus on the Pirates connection to free agents, the best thing a club can do is lock up its young core.
This is what Neal Huntington told me earlier this year of locking up pre-arb players:
“In perfect world we’d love to sign them all. The challenge is is there a common ground financially: where the player is willing to give up a little bit for security and the club is willing to invest a whole lot of dollars when they don’t need to to buy out a year or two or three of free agency. It certainly needs to part of the plan. But as the industry has shown us it needs to be the right players for the right deals and not just because he’s a young player.”
Players like Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker might be too close to free agency now to approach with such deals. But Cole – and Starling Marte – are assets worth locking up and worth targeting early.
PIRATES DOT BASEBALL AMERICA RANKINGS
The record for most prospects by a single organization to be ranked in the top 100 of the Baseball America prospect rankings is nine, set by the Royals in 2011.
The Pirates might brush with that number this offseason.
Baseball America has released its lists of top 20 prospects per minor league and there’s a heavy Pirates presence (some prospects are listed in multiple leagues but I’m only listing players once at their top level).
Double-A Eastern league: No. 6 Gregory Polanco, No. 7 Jameson Taillon, No. 15 Nick Kingham.
*Polanco responded to the challenge of Double-A, keeping his plate discipline, and he along with Taillon could be in line for major league debuts in 2014. Kingham is another impressive right-handed arm who is not far away.
High-A Florida State: No. 13 Alen Hanson
*Potential impact offensive player in the middle of the field.
Low-A South Atlantic League: No. 2 Tyler Glasnow
*Top breakout prospect of 2013. Held opponents to a .147 batting average. Has Taillon upside.
Short-season N.Y.Penn: No. 1 Harold Ramirez
*More fine work by Rene Gayo and his staff.
Rookie: Gulf Coast League: No. 1 Austin Meadows, No. 3 Reese McGuire
*The Pirates might have hit on a monster first round in 2013. Meadows has earned Jay Bruce comps and had a stellar debut. McGure is an elite defensive catcher and hit better than most expected. Both have smooth left-handed swings.
Those are eight strong candidates for the top 100 and the lists don’t include Josh Bell who regained his prospect status after an injury-riddled 2012 or Luis Heredia who took a step back in 2013 but still is just 19 and has three years of pro experience.
As we wrote in today’s paper, Bob Nutting touched on a number of topics – from payroll to AJ Burnett – in a radio interview yesterday with 93.7. Nutting also touched on some other areas of interest:
On finding the next undervalued asset (shifting, defensive efficiency) …
“I think that’s the whole game. You have 29 other clubs with very smart, very competent, very focused people also looking for that edge. I think what we’ve seen is a steady progression in talent base and dynamic leadership with Clint, but also have a realistic view that we have to be in a constant state of improvement whether it be baserunner, holding runners on base or shifting, those are all area were identified and ones we continue to work on.”
On any mediation needed to have the on-field staff buy into more front-office analytics …
“I’d say (Huntington and Hurdle) have a tremendous relationship. …. I’d also say both have a deep understanding of both sides of the equation. Clint does have players’ history, players’ mindset , an emotional guy, but very smart and savvy when it comes to bringing in and implementing statistical data. Neal spent enough time as a farm director, enough time scouting, to have a good feel for those intangibles. I think both come in closer to that center….. I love the phrase ‘constructive dissent,’ an an opportunity for someone to listen to value a different opinion and build it it into their decision making process. I think it makes us all better.”
On the fans ….
“This fan base just made that stadium electric I know the impact it had on players. I know the impact it had on Clint and the coaching staff. I can’t give enough credit to the fans who showed up, and gave the encouragement and helped drive this team forward all season long.”