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Cole upset at Pirates over salary

| Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 10:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole throws his first bullpen session of spring training as pitching coach Ray Searage watches Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole sits in the bullpen at Pirate City Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole poses for a portrait on photo day Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. – Gerrit Cole is the emerging star of the Pirates' starting rotation.

As the team set his salary for 2016, however, Cole feels he was treated like a second-class player.

On Saturday, Cole grudgingly signed a deal for $541,000 in base salary. That's the same amount he made last year — $531,000 in base pay play a $10,000 bonus for making the All-Star team.

According to Cole, the team's initial offer last week was for $538,000 – which was less than his total pay last year. The team refused to go higher than $541,000.

“They even threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree,” Cole said.

The major league minimum salary is $507,500. Cole's new contract includes the same $10,000 All-Star bonus.

General manager Neal Huntington did not return a phone call from the Tribune-Review.

Cole said club officials explained their initial offer was $538,000 because a $7,000 raise is the maximum allowed under the team's salary system for players who are not eligible for arbitration.

“What kind of message does that send to players?” Cole's agent, Scott Boras, said. “The best deserve the best. You should reward the best. I can't believe that is a Bob Nutting-approved (salary) system. It doesn't ring with the conversations Bob and I had when Gerrit signed.”

The Pirates gave Cole an $8 million signing bonus after they made him the first overall pick in 2011. At the time, it was the largest bonus ever given an amateur player.

“I would think Bob would want to reward a guy for a special performance,” Boras said. “Other teams have that system. If Gerrit was with the Mets, he'd get well over $650,000. If he was with the Marlins, he'd get more (than the Pirates will pay).”

Last year, Cole ended up tied for second in the National League with 19 victories, finished 10th in the league in strikeouts, and was fourth in Cy Young Award voting. Manager Clint Hurdle chose Cole to be the starting pitcher in the NL wild-card game against the Chicago Cubs.

“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.”

Any “zero-to-three” player — that is, one who has less than three years' service time in the majors — must accept whatever contract his team extends to him. If the player refuses to sign it, the contract can be imposed at a lower rate.

Cole has pitched in 73 games over the past 2½ seasons. In that span, the 25-year-old right-hander is 40-20 with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.

Cole will be eligible for salary arbitration after this season. He can become a free agent after the 2019 season.

On Saturday, Cole's teammates elected him their representative to the players' union. Cole replaced Neil Walker, who was traded to the New York Mets in December.

Cole said he does not want his displeasure over his contract situation to become a distraction as the Pirates ramp up their spring training.

“I don't want anyone in this locker room to question the virtue of our organization,” Cole said.

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

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