Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg and Pirates’ ace Gerrit Cole have a lot in common: Both tall (6’4 to be exact), fiery aces for their respected clubs. They both grew up in California and stayed in-state for their college years. They both were number one draft picks with potential ceilings as high as you can imagine who have emerged into the baseball world as two of the best young pitchers in baseball.
The difference that stands out is money; it’s the elephant in the room. On Monday, May 9th Stephen Strasburg signed a 7 year deal worth $175 plus performance bonuses. Before the 2016 season Gerrit Cole signed a controversial $541,000 contract over one year after a 4th place finish in CY Young voting. Granted, Strasburg does have a few extra years of experience under his belt which may place Cole a few years out from his long-term deal.
The argument, however, is if you take away the years Strasburg’s seasons were cut short then you could say he and Cole are in similar points of their careers. They both also have posted near-identical career numbers: (Cole/Strasburg) 3.12/3.06 ERA, .652/.615 win percentage, 1.160/1.087 WHIP (Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched), and just 1 complete game between the two of them which belongs to Strasburg.
Although Strasburg’s sample size is larger, they have put up similar numbers throughout their short careers which brings up the question: does Gerrit Cole deserve to be paid like Strasburg? It’s obvious the Pirates won’t be able to come near what the Nationals paid Strasburg, but is that OK with Cole? Or will he look elsewhere?
Judging from his reaction to his newest contract, it’s suspected that Gerrit Cole will be looking to sign a long-term deal with a place he can call home. Whether or not that place is in Pittsburgh will be decided sooner than we think and it may depend on how much the suspected long-term Pirates, like Andrew McCutchen, are willing to deduct from their salary to keep Cole in Pittsburgh.
If two of the Pirates’ top-5 prospects, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, show up and perform as expected, the Pirates may have to send Cole packing. Cole was a catalyst that got this team to the playoffs after 20 years of drought, and Pittsburgh will forever be grateful for that. But if his production costs depth in the lineup, when the Pirates could get similar production out of Taillon and Glasnow for much less, then why not send Cole off to a team where he can get paid to his liking?
The reality is the Pirates’ do not have the team-budget to keep McCutchen, Cole, Liriano, Kang, Harrison, etc. long-term so one or more will have to go. I expect at least one to be the one who demands the most money, and after the signing of Strasburg, that will more than likely be Gerrit Cole. If Taillon and Glasnow don’t workout, the void will need to be filled, cheap, and that’s where GM Neal Huntington is at his best.