When Gerrit Cole became a Pittsburgh Pirate during the 2011 amateur draft, the Trib’s Mark Madden recently wrote, “It’s generally known Cole immediately started marking the days until he could hit free agency, likely to return to his native California.”
That could explain why on most days when the TV camera caught Cole sitting in the Pirates dugout, he was never mistaken for Chris Archer or Cole Tucker. Those two Buccos are the poster children for rah-rah cheerleading in the major leagues; Cole is their antithesis. Rarely did anyone ever see him donating his time at some Pittsburgh charitable event or at anything in the area during the off-season, let alone looking as though he was happy to be a professional baseball player.
It was also known, even by a casual fan or anyone who saw the right-handed pitcher, how uninterested he was in wearing the black and gold.
The Pirates made three post-season appearances in his first three years in the majors, and perhaps they might had made two more had Cole done better than 19-22 combined in his last two years as a Pirate.
Traded to Houston, Cole played in two more playoffs, punctuated by a remarkable 2019 campaign: 20-5 regular season record (including 16 straight wins), a 2.50 ERA, and a league-best 326 strikeouts, plus a 4-1 postseason record with a 1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched. Cole’s stats led to a second-place Cy Young vote last Wednesday.
Would it be gauche to suggest that his interest in his 2019 performance was due to the free agency this offseason that will guarantee Cole the biggest contract ever for a pitcher—way north of $30 million a year for seven or eight years?
Then mark me down as Mr. Gauche.
And mark Cole down as King Gauche.
Tweeting the day after the Houston Astros lost the World Series, Cole made it clear that his days as an Astro were over.
“The Astros organization has been such a pleasure to play for,” Cole wrote. “I’ve met lifelong friends on the team and in the community and learned a little about pitching along the way. This is a relationship between a team and its fans like no other that I know. Thank you for making us better people and better players. This was a great season. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Don’t you wonder how his new “lifelong friends” felt after the seventh game when Cole was interviewed on TV? His post-game clothes were devoid of anything Astros. Even his hat had a logo of the Boras Corporation, reminding everyone that his real team was his agent Scott Boras, who was about to begin the process of squeezing every last dime out of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“I’m not employed by the team,” Cole told reporters who sought his comments after game 7. “I guess as a representative of myself….”
Of course, the Pirates did little to endear Cole to the City of Pittsburgh, playing hardball with their supposed star, forcing him to sign a $531,000 base salary in 2016, the same amount he was paid in 2015, when he made the All-Star team, won 19 games, and was fourth in Cy Young voting.
According to Cole, the team first offered LESS that his paycheck in 2015: $538,000.
“They even threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree,” Cole told Rob Biertempfel, then with the Trib.
The then-GM Neal Huntington said 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. (At that time $507,500 was the minimum salary.)
“What kind of message does that send to players?” Boras asked in 2016. “The best deserves the best. You should reward the best.”
Well, somebody in Anaheim is about to follow Boras’ credo.
You didn’t think it would be the Pirates, did you?
JIM SANKEY is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.