To the surprise of almost no one, the Pirates this morning reassigned Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft, to their minor league camp.
Unfortunately, among the surprised was Cole, who pitched 10 innings in spring training and had a 3.60 ERA with seven strikeouts, two walks and a .216 BAA. Michael Sanserino of the Post-Gazette talked with Cole in Bradenton and described him as ``upset.’’ He should be.
Cole said, ``I really worked hard here, and I put together a lot of good outings, especially if I didn't have my stuff. I tried to give them a lot of opportunities to not make this decision. But in the end, it still happened."
There was no way the Pirates were going to allow Cole to start the season on the 25-man roster. If that happened, he’d be a free agent after the 2018 season. If the Pirates waited about a month, he’d be a free agent after the 2019 season. That alone -- as Washington did with Bryce Harper -- would be reason enough to start Cole in Class AAA.
But general manager Neal Huntington insisted neither Cole's free-agency nor his arbitration clock played a role in the reassignment.
``Everybody's going to speculate why he's being sent out, and they're wrong," Huntington said. ``He's being sent out because, in our minds, he's not ready to compete and be successful at the major league level."
As always, Huntington had the numbers to back his decision.
``The track record of professional pitchers with less than 200 innings that have gotten in the big leagues is about a 50/50 hit rate," he said. ``And some of those guys are high picks like Gerrit."
Huntington is absolutely right on this decision. It would have been foolish to have Cole open the season with the Pirates. Huntington might be being a bit disingenuous with his reasoning -- if Cole had those 200 innings he still would not start the season in Pittsburgh -- but it was the right move.
Cole has made only two starts in Class AAA and in the second one he was knocked around. He needs to master Class AAA before he tries to master MLB.
But all accounts he is an exceptional pitcher. But most accounts, the Pirates do not have an exceptional rotation. Unless he has problems at Class AAA or in the more unlikely scenario the Pirates get strong starting pitching, Cole will be here before the All-Star break.
It that pushes his free-agency clock and his arbitration clock back another year, so much the better.