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Kovacevic: No way Pirates should keep Cole

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole throws during a game against Spain on Tuesday, March 5, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

Brief and to the Point, some final impressions from a week at spring training …

If Gerrit Cole isn't ready for the Pirates, then he's most assuredly close enough that he could figure out the rest on the fly. The consensus on that count, inside the clubhouse and beyond, is overwhelming.

But management won't have Cole up for the season's start, per all available indications.

And I'm OK with that.

No, really.

Sure, a powerful, poised, intelligent pitcher who's one of baseball's very best prospects would be a welcome addition to this — or any — rotation. The Pirates certainly have enough question marks beyond A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez.

But if the team waits until mid-June or so, it can push back Cole's arbitration eligibility by a year. Thus they'd get 3 12 months of Cole in 2013 plus retain his rights an entire extra year before he can become a free agent following the 2019 season.

Yeah, I know: Who cares about 2019?

Let me counter with this: Who cared about that extra year with Andrew McCutchen when a similar fuss was kicked up in 2009 that he wasn't called up until June?

Looks pretty good now. Maybe he wouldn't have signed that extension with the Pirates last spring — just before his MVP finalist performance — had he known he could hit the open market sooner.

Nothing is harder for a low-budget team to acquire than an elite starting arm. Cole might prove to be exactly that. And if he is, with agent Scott Boras as his guide, he's a great bet to test the open market at the first opportunity.

So would you rather have a couple months of Cole now or a full year of his prime at age 28?

• Another variable in that mix: The biggest worry with an imperiled front office is that they'll make moves with a main aim of saving their jobs. Even if they'd want to bring up Cole, Bob Nutting should step in and say no.

• Loved this from Gaby Sanchez regarding Cole: “Some guys who throw hard, they're a little shy about going inside. This kid, he'll get two strikes on you, then back you off, and now he's got the whole plate to get you out. Tough, man. Tough.”

• Watching Andrew McCutchen for a week, it's easy to wonder if he's a center fielder or a salesman. The extra demand on his time, from media to promos to charity to photo shoots ... let's just say he was wearing his regular-season whites so often he joked he felt like he'd already played the opener.

“Man, I need to learn how to say no once in a while,” McCutchen said with a sigh the other day.

Yes, he does.

• It's rare for any manager or coach to be rewarded with an extension after two losing seasons, never mind the Epic Collapses over which Clint Hurdle has presided. But that call was made by Nutting because he genuinely believes in Hurdle.

Safe to say the gesture — and the sentiment — is appreciated.

“More than anything, I'm humbled by it,” Hurdle said. “But I also feel empowered that Bob shows that trust.”

• A.J. Burnett calls James McDonald his “pick to click” this summer.

The pick here: Jose Tabata.

The kid beats himself up when he does badly, but don't mistake that for not caring.

• Jason Grilli thinks his setup man will be Mark Melancon, the chief acquisition in the Joel Hanrahan trade. If Grilli's right, know that Melancon's first four appearances with the Red Sox last season were so miserable — 11 runs over two total innings — he was demoted to Pawtucket to straighten out.

Melancon has looked solid this spring, but it's still no small gamble for the Pirates to start him in a prominent role.

• Remember how Jim Tracy messed up Chris Duffy by tinkering with his mechanics to make him more of a prototype leadoff hitter?

Duffy had been a pure line-drive hitter, but Tracy ordered him to watch video clips of Dodgers leadoff man Dave Roberts to learn how to pound the ball into the ground. Before long, Duffy was out of baseball and terribly bitter about it.

So what about Starling Marte, who has legit power — even to straightaway center — but will be at or near the top of the Pirates' order?

“We're letting Starling be who he is,” Hurdle said. “We do want to see better strike-zone awareness. But when he swings, we want him doing it with bad intentions.”

• Great to see Sean Casey, one of the world's exemplary humans, doing well on MLB Network and loving life. He was at McKechnie Field the other day and looked so pumped you'd swear he was going to grab a bat.

“Best job ever!” the Mayor boomed. “And I only work 64 days a year, you know?”

I asked Casey if he's been smart with his millions in retirement. A lot of athletes aren't.

“That's why I only work 64 days a year!”

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