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Bucs likely to tender all 4 arb-eligible players

Cole, Kontos, Mercer, Rivero expected to play key roles in 2018
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The annual non-tender deadline may be an uneventful one for the Pirates this year.

Clubs have until 8 p.m. ET on Friday to officially offer a contract to players on their 40-man roster. That includes players who are eligible for salary arbitration and those who have not yet reached that point, but not those who have guaranteed deals like Andrew McCutchen, Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison.

PITTSBURGH -- The annual non-tender deadline may be an uneventful one for the Pirates this year.

Clubs have until 8 p.m. ET on Friday to officially offer a contract to players on their 40-man roster. That includes players who are eligible for salary arbitration and those who have not yet reached that point, but not those who have guaranteed deals like Andrew McCutchen, Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison.

The past two years, Pittsburgh parted ways with two relatively prominent arbitration-eligible players: Pedro Alvarez in 2015 and Jeff Locke in '16. The Bucs also non-tendered a pair of pre-arbitration players: outfielder Jaff Decker ('15) and catcher Eric Fryer ('16).

Hot Stove Tracker

The Pirates have four arb-eligible players: Gerrit Cole, George Kontos, Jordy Mercer and Felipe Rivero. That's their presumptive Opening Day starter, setup man, shortstop and closer. Given their prominence, production and projected salaries, it stands to reason the Bucs will tender a contract to all four players.

Let's look at where each player stands heading into the non-tender deadline.

Cole
Arb-eligible year: Second of three
2017 salary: $3.75 million
Projected 2018 salary: $7.5 million (per MLBTradeRumors.com)
Cole is coming off an encouraging year in some regards -- he threw 203 innings and struck out 196 in 33 starts after an injury-riddled 2016 -- but he finished with a 12-12 record and a 4.26 ERA due in part to the career-high 31 homers he allowed.

Still, Cole was Pittsburgh's most valuable pitcher by Wins Above Replacement last season and, barring a trade, he should return as the Opening Day starter in 2018.

• Inbox: Are Pirates shopping Cole?

Video: Adam Berry on Cole's rollercoaster 2017 season

Kontos
Arb-eligible year: Third of four
2017 salary: $1.75 million
Projected 2018 salary: $2.7 million
Claimed off waivers from the Giants in early August, Kontos finished strong with the Pirates as he recorded a 1.84 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP in 15 late-inning appearances. The 32-year-old has an impressive career track record -- including a 3.00 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and a 2.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- and postseason experience, making him a likely leader (and setup man) in a young bullpen next season.

Pittsburgh's no-cost acquisition of Kontos came with a bonus: an extra season of club control due to his service time with San Francisco. A full year of service time is 172 days, and Kontos has accrued four years and 171 days.

Video: PIT@WSH: Kontos K's Robles to wrap up regular season

Mercer
Arb-eligible year: Third and final
2017 salary: $4.325 million
Projected 2018 salary: $6.5 million
Interestingly, MLBTradeRumors.com listed Mercer as a potential non-tender candidate -- perhaps because of how his salary fits Pittsburgh's limited payroll. He has produced 2.4 WAR over the past three years, with half of that total coming as he hit a career-high 14 homers last season, and he is projected to earn the seventh-highest salary on the 2018 team.

But the Pirates value the 31-year-old's leadership, steady defense and offense, particularly against left-handed pitchers. They have shortstops coming through their system, but nobody else is ready for the Majors. The job still belongs to Mercer.

Video: STL@PIT: Mercer clears the bases with a triple

Rivero
Arb-eligible year: First of four
2017 salary: $564,500
Projected 2018 salary: $3.1 million
The 26-year-old flamethrower has emerged as one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. He's the closer, and he's not going anywhere.

It is worth noting that relievers are typically paid for saves in arbitration, and Rivero will have four increasingly expensive years of arbitration eligibility. He will be compensated well now and even more so in the future, raising the likelihood of a trade before he reaches free agency after the 2021 season.

Video: PIT@MIL: Rivero fans Bandy to complete the shutout

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole, George Kontos, Jordy Mercer, Felipe Rivero