SOUTH HILLS – By now you are probably aware that Gerrit Cole isn’t thrilled with the $541,000 contract he signed over the weekend.
Said Cole to the Tribune-Review’s Rob Biertempfel on Saturday night:
“When you perform at a level that draws the praise of management, teammates, coaches and fans, you expect appropriate compensation,” Cole said. “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.
Though pre-arbitration players (0-3 years of service time) are almost always compensated near the league minimum and receive only modest raises above the minimum, and while Cole understands this, my understanding he is upset because the Pirates offered him less than what than he earned last season. This is because his $10,000 All-Star bonus out-weighs the modest base salary raise he receives for 2016. Neal Huntington said Sunday the club made a mistake in not factoring in the bonus to his 2016 base salary.
“They even threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree,” Cole said.
Cole is not the first really talented pre-arbitration player to be upset with a pre-arbitration contract. An MVP in Mike Trout thought it was absurd he was signed to a near minimum contract in 2013. (Though the Angels gave him a $1 million contract – twice above the league minimum in 2014). Cole Hamels was in a similar performance and contract situation to that of Cole in March of 2008 when he called the Phillies contract terms: “A low blow.”
Now as my friend and Phillies writer Ryan Lawrence pointed out, 10 months after those words Hamels signed three-year, $20-million deal to buy his arbitration years, and would later sign a long-term, six-year, $144 million contract with the Phillies. Time and dollars heal all wounds. But there’s little chance Cole agrees to any long-term deal with the Pirates.
Cole’s agent Scott Boras typically has his clients go year-to-year through arbitration and then hit free agency as early as possible to maximize dollars. Cole could be a $20m pitcher in his final year of arbitration. As the team’s new union rep, Cole is unlikely to accept any discount.
A couple thoughts on this matter …
*The pre-arb system is unfair to players who peak early – and pitchers are particularly at risk since they are more likely to suffer a catastrophic injury.
*I don’t understand why the Pirates would be squabbling with Cole over a few thousand dollars at a time when the game is soaking with new revenues. Yes, the Pirates don’t want to break the pre-arb system with a seven-figure contract for Cole in 2016, but giving Cole a few thousand extra dollars could build some goodwill as opposed to eroding it.
*What’s also interesting is that Cole became the Pirates’ new union player rep last week. What happens if Cole and other young stars in the game begin to really voice their displeasure about the pre-arb system? What if they begin to notice how owners’ share of overall revenues has increased dramatically? What if they start pushing for major changes to the system? What if baseball has a bigger labor fight on its hands than it can afford?
For a few dollars more in the short term, buying goodwill with Cole might have much greater long-term benefits for the club.
THREE UP (REGARDING A McCUTCHEN EXTENSION)
>>Speaking of contracts and dollars, what should the Pirates do with Andrew McCutchen?
It’s been a popular questions this spring. The clock is ticking on the club’s control over McCutchen. Many fans cannot imagine Pirates baseball post-McCutchen, others are aware of the cruel, cold, indomitable aging curve.
We looked at the dilemma facing the Pirates in Sunday’s Trib. Do the Pirates extend one of the top players in franchise history but risk committing a substantial amount of payroll to a player in decline? Or is there so much intangible value – goodwill, positive perception value – that it’s worth keeping McCutchen regardless of how he ages?
>>I can’t help wonder about the intangible value of McCutchen, of him retiring as a Pirate.
I think about my hometown Cleveland Indians. And I think about the perception problem they’ve created by letting so many star players walk over the last 15 years: Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee. Even though the club has had its moments over the last few years, including a wild card berth in 2013, their attendance has cratered.
The Pirates are still probably the No. 3 team in town behind the Steelers and the Penguins. Can the Pirates really afford to lose McCutchen while also facing the prospect of trying to sustain their recent success? What would the value be in changing some of the “Nutting-is-cheap” perception? I’m not sure the intangible aspects outweigh a $100 million contract going south, they probably don’t, but I’m not going to dismiss the intangible factors McCutchen brings.
>>Regarding pure on-field performance, there’s always the chance McCutchen is an outlier and ages well.
We’ve mentioned his top three PECOTA comps in this blog a couple weeks back – Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron – all of whom played well into their late 30s. Sometimes great players defy conventional aging.
More recently Jim Edmonds and Steve Finely played center field extremely well into their 30s but the prime-lengthening effects of PEDS complicate the recent history and aging curves of players.
>>You probably are aware that players begin to decline in/after their early 30s. But do you understand just how cruel the aging curve is? Take a look: PTR-McCutchenGraphic-022816
I looked at all center fielders since WWII, since 1946 – essentially since integration – and how they aged.
Remarkably, from their Age 28 seasons (where McCutchen played last season) to their Age 32 seasons (where McCutchen will be in 2019 after his 2018 club option) there is an 84 percent decline in production. Total games played drop 71 percent.
>>Now, some of these center fielders with quality bats shift to an outfield corner. And that could be in store for McCutchen as defensive value really erodes dramatically at center field in players’ early 30s. But a player’s bat loses relative value when sliding down the defensive spectrum. McCutchen doesn’t have the arm for right, and you could argue left field at PNC Park – the largest left field in the game – is a more daunting assignment than center. Then there is the knee….
>>Then there is the history of giving players a second extension. (It isn’t good). I examined the 16 players who were beyond pre-arbitration status when they signed a $100-million-plus extension.
The average age when signing contract: 28.5 (McCutchen is 29)
The average years from free agency: 2 (McCutchen is three years away)
The average length of years added to their contracts: 6.8
The average dollars per year of extension: $21.1 milliom
The average three-year production before singing the extension? 5.7 WAR
The average production in the first three years of their added years? 2.1 WAR
Such an extension for McCutchen would take him through his Age 38 season, a seven-year, $148-million pact for a player likely in steep decline based upon the averages. (And the dollars are likely light considering many of the 16 historical contract comps were signed earlier in the decade).
STAT OF THE WEEK: 67
WAR produced by Mays in his age 32-40 seasons. The next closest center fielder in terms of Age32-40 production post WWII? Edmonds at 27.7. There’s never been a post-war CF like Mays, no one’s even close.
Huntington on Cole and his contract situation: “We made a mistake in the process. We’ve owned that. We’ll evolve. Our hope is that Gerrit is ready to move forward and put this behind him.”