USA TODAY Sports
Dejan's column from Bradenton argues that the Pirates shouldn't promote Gerrit Cole to start the season. This is one of those things I don't write about much (mostly because I think Dejan is pretty obviously right), but if Cole has another good start, the hype train is going to leave the station, so we might as well discuss it now.
First, I agree with Dejan here:
But if the team waits until mid-June or so, it can push back Cole's arbitration eligibility by a year. Thus they'd get 31⁄2 months of Cole in 2013 plus retain his rights an entire extra year before he can become a free agent following the 2019 season.
Yeah, I know: Who cares about 2019?
Let me counter with this: Who cared about that extra year with Andrew McCutchen when a similar fuss was kicked up in 2009 that he wasn't called up until June?
A year of Cole's prime is worth more than two months of his rookie season. It's easy to overlook long-term considerations when you've had 20 straight losing seasons, and it's especially easy to overlook the long term when you're a writer or a fan and no one's going to hold you accountable if you mess up. But McCutchen is a perfect example of why it's important to think a few years down the road -- his long-term deal would have been much more difficult to negotiate if arbitration paydays had been a year closer.
The broader reason why Cole won't begin the year in the rotation, though, isn't his service time. It's because the Pirates like to be deliberate with their prospects. For the most part, the Pirates just don't give important major-league jobs to players who don't have much Triple-A experience. There might be occasions when they give a little bit of PT to an inexperienced player, as they did with Kyle McPherson down the stretch last year. But if you promote Gerrit Cole to start the season, you're not promoting him to take a few starts -- you're promoting him with the hope that he'll never have to pitch in the minors again. You need to be sure you're getting it right. Cole has all of one career start for Indianapolis. Let him prove himself there first.
The Bucs like for all their big-name prospects to get at least a couple months in Triple-A. That's what they did with Pedro Alvarez, and they still might have rushed him. They also waited with McCutchen and Jose Tabata. They held Starling Marte back at least a month more than most fans would have preferred. The Pirates like to be cautious with their best prospects. That's mostly a good policy, and that's the main reason Cole will start the season in the minors. If Jeff Karstens is healthy, that's why McPherson probably will too. That waiting on Cole delays his service time clock is merely a fringe benefit.
If Cole is really ready for the majors, we'll know pretty quickly, because he'll destroy Triple-A hitting in April and May. And then the Pirates can call him up.