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Pirates say they made a mistake in salary offer to ace Cole

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BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington on Sunday acknowledged the team erroneously computed Gerrit Cole’s salary offer for 2016, which led to a public spat with their ace pitcher.

The Pirates initially offered Cole a $538,000 contract, which was a $7,000 increase over his base salary last year. According to Huntington, that was a franchise-record pay hike for a player with only two-plus years of big league service time.

However, Cole’s total earnings last season were $541,000 because he got a $10,000 bonus for making the National League All-Star team.

”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 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Cole went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. He was the Pirates’ starting pitcher in the NL wild-card game.

Because Cole has less than three year’s major league service time, the Pirates can impose any salary over the minimum of $507,500.

The Pirates use an in-house algorithm to determine salary increases for their ”zero-to-three” players. Huntington said the system weighs service time, playing time and performance.

When Cole’s figure was computed, however, his All-Star bonus was not included. Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, balked when the Pirates gave him the $538,000 offer.

”We made a mistake in the process,” Huntington said. ”We didn’t have to move (the figure). We felt they made a valid point (and) we made the adjustment.”

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The team raised Cole’s salary to $541,000. When Cole asked for a larger increase – something that would put him over his 2015 earnings total – the Pirates refused to budge.

”They even threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree,” Cole told the Tribune-Review.

Cole grudgingly signed the contract for $541,000, then told the Tribune-Review about his situation.

”Gerrit strikes a note that most people can empathize with,” Huntington said. ”I’m sure there are many people in this world who don’t feel they are adequately compensated for what they do. The challenge we have is there is a collectively bargained system in place and it’s been in place for years.”

Some teams are willing to give hefty increases to star players. In 2014, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout got $1 million, a record for a pre-arbitration deal, about a month before agreeing to a $144.5 million, six-year extension.

The Pirates prefer to take a hard-line approach.

”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? 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.”

Huntington said the Pirates’ salary process will include bonuses in the future.

”We’ll evolve,” Huntington said. ”Our hope is that Gerrit is ready to move forward, put this behind him and recognize that the better year he has, the better year we have, it’s good for all.”

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