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Pirates GM on Cole's salary offer: 'We made a mistake in the process'

| Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, 2:51 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks with general manager Neal Huntington during practice Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Bruised feelings between the Pirates and pitcher Gerrit Cole are the result of a gaffe the team made when it computed his initial salary figure, general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday.

Huntington admitted a $10,000 bonus Cole earned for making the All-Star team was not included, which led to a salary offer for 2016 of $538,000 — which is $3,000 less than what Cole earned last year.

“We made a mistake in the process,” Huntington said. “We've owned that. We'll evolve. Our hope is that Gerrit is ready to move forward and put this behind him.”

Cole signed for $541,000 but is unhappy that his base salary this year is the same as his total earnings last year — despite a remarkable season that included a 19-8 record, 2.60 ERA and fourth-place finish in Cy Young Award voting.

Cole also said the Pirates threatened to cut his pay to the $507,500 major league minimum if he did not sign the contract.

“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,” Cole told the Tribune-Review.

Cole, 25, has less than three full years of major league service time, so he is not eligible for salary arbitration. Under MLB's labor agreement, teams can unilaterally impose whatever salary they choose on “zero-to-three” players.

“There is a collectively bargained system in place; it's been in place for years,” Huntington said. “I'm not sure his gripe is completely with us.”

Each team is able to use whatever standard it wants to set salaries for zero-to-three players. According to Huntington, the Pirates' metric weighs performance, service time and playing time.

“In our system, Gerrit scales out very well,” Huntington said. “He was going to be compensated at the top of our two-plus (years of service time) class.”

Scott Boras, Cole's agent, was stunned when the Pirates showed him the initial $538,000 figure.

“We had to tell them they forgot to include the $10,000 bonus (in 2015),” Boras said.

Huntington conceded Boras and Cole had a valid point about the missing bonus money.

“We made the adjustment,” Huntington said. “We'll learn from it. It will become part of our process as we move forward.”

Although the Pirates increased their offer to $541,000, Boras still says the team's calculus is flawed.

“When you have a system that doesn't account for special performances by a player, it doesn't reward those achievements,” Boras said.

Huntington defended the Pirates' system, which he put in place after he was hired in September 2007.

“Once you make an exception, how do you draw the line?” Huntington said. “If it's only for MVPs, what if someone wins a Cy Young? Or what if someone finishes fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting? Where do you draw the line? Some clubs have the ability to go in different directions, higher or lower. We believe our system is consistent, and it's the right way to do things for us.”

Cole will be eligible for salary arbitration after this season, which will put him in line for a multimillion-dollar payday. He will become a free agent after the 2019 season.

“There is one day a year when we're on opposite sides of the table,” Huntington said. “We'll move beyond that day and do everything possible to help Gerrit Cole have a great year for this organization and for himself, and (next year), we'll reward him handsomely — hopefully, without going through an arbitration process.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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