Every time prized prospect Gerrit Cole pitches this spring, as he did yesterday, the talk is going to get around to the possibility of him starting the season on the Pirates 25-man roster.
And every time a pitchers who figures to be part of the Pirates rotation doesn’t pitch well or suffers an injury there will be talk of Cole starting the season with the Pirates.
It is not going to happen. Nor should it happen.
If the Pirates are smart, they will make a point to keep Cole’s profile a low one this spring training and keep the focus off thoughts of him making the team. But they should not have to do that because the right and proper thing to do is for Cole to open the season at Indianapolis.
There are two reasons for that:
* It’s the best thing for his development. He made only two starts in Class AAA last season. In one, at the end of the regular season, he a poor first inning and then five good ones. In the second, in the playoffs, he allowed eight runs and nine hits and didn't get out of the second inning. Previously, in 60 innings at Altoona, he was good but not dominant.
* It is the fiscally prudent course to take. A lot of people don’t like to hear that. A lot of people hear that and say the Pirates are being cheap. By starting Cole in the minors this season, the Pirates are not being cheap they are being smart.
If you ran the Pirates, what would your preference be: To have Cole start the season with the Pirates and be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season? Or join the team in May and be eligible for free agency after the 2019 season?
Is one month of Cole, as an untested rookie in 2013, better than a full season of Cole as a polished veteran 2019?
It’s not even close. By waiting until May, the Pirates extend Cole’s free agency by a full season.
That’s not to say the Pirates will call him up in May, even if he's ready. They might be more fiscally prudent and wait until mid-June, at which point he would not be eligible for arbitration until after the 2016 season. Called up earlier, he’d likely be eligible in 2015, as a Super 2.
Under no circumstances should Cole start the season with the Pirates. That would be outright stupidity. As for arbitration, the Pirates, like most teams, would wait until mid-June. If by some chance the Pirates are playing well and need pitching help before mid-June, then the team has a decision to make.