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Huntington: Club made misstep with Cole's '16 contract

MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington admitted on Sunday to making a mistake in the club's handling of ace Gerrit Cole's 2016 contract, an error that prompted Cole and agent Scott Boras to air their grievances on Saturday to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"There's one day a year where we're on opposite sides of the table. We're beyond that day," Huntington said. "We're looking forward to doing everything in our power to help Gerrit Cole go out and have a great year for this organization, a great year for himself and reward him handsomely."

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington admitted on Sunday to making a mistake in the club's handling of ace Gerrit Cole's 2016 contract, an error that prompted Cole and agent Scott Boras to air their grievances on Saturday to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"There's one day a year where we're on opposite sides of the table. We're beyond that day," Huntington said. "We're looking forward to doing everything in our power to help Gerrit Cole go out and have a great year for this organization, a great year for himself and reward him handsomely."

Cole, who is not yet eligible for salary arbitration because he has accrued less than three years of Major League service time, told the Tribune-Review that he signed a one-year deal for $541,000, an amount that Cole found "hard to accept" given his success on the mound last season.

That figure represents a $10,000 raise from his base salary in 2015. Accounting for his $10,000 bonus for making the All-Star team, however, the value matches his overall earnings a year ago.

"When you perform at a level that draws the praise of management, teammates, coaches and fans, you expect appropriate compensation," Cole told the Tribune-Review. "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."

Clubs have complete control in setting their pre-arbitration players' annual salaries as long as they earn at least the Major League minimum of $507,500. To determine theirs, the Pirates use a system that accounts for service time, performance and playing time. Some players are rewarded under the system, but not to the extent of arbitration-eligible players or free agents who can state their demands.

The Pirates' initial offer to Cole was for $538,000, the 25-year-old right-hander told the Tribune-Review, an increase of his 2015 base salary but an overall pay cut.

The Pirates' mistake in negotiating a deal with Cole, Huntington said, was using his base salary ($531,000) and not his total earnings ($541,000) as a jumping-off point in their system.

Cole and his representatives pointed out the flaw: Why should Cole, who went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting, technically have his pay docked after such a successful season?

So the Pirates adjusted accordingly, raising Cole's salary to match his previous year's earnings and making him the highest-paid pre-arbitration player in franchise history. He once again has an incentives package in place, including a $10,000 All-Star bonus that would raise his pay to $551,000.

"We didn't have to move," Huntington said. "We felt like they made a valid point. We made the adjustment and broke our scale. It will become a part of our process going forward. We hope to have many more players earn bonuses that adjust their earnings above our scale going forward.

"We'll learn from it and work to repair whatever needs to be repaired and put him in a position to go out and be an outstanding pitcher again and be a leader for this rotation."

According to the report, Cole said the Pirates "threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree."

"As with most organizations, renewals come with an amount less than the last offer. That's the process," Huntington said. "Every club has the ability to do what it wants to do, but the large majority of clubs that we're aware of, the renewal does come at an amount less than the final offer."

Cole declined to comment on the published report. He will be eligible for arbitration after this season and can become a free agent after the 2019 season.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole