I know that this was news over the weekend and is basically not news anymore, but I was gone all weekend so I'm writing this article now. The big news over the weekend was that Gerrit Cole went to the Tribune-Review and complained about how the Pirates determined his salary for this year (pre-arbitration salaries are completely up to the clubs, as long as they meet the league minimum of $507,500). I think that there are two sides to this. One is that Cole shouldn't be complaining about his salary; the current Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for this to happen (as ridiculous as it may be) and that's part of the business. The flip side is that it seems ridiculous for the Pirates to lowball him, offering less than his total compensation last year, when he finished fourth in Cy Young voting, and subsequently threatening to give him the league minimum if he didn't sign.
The Pirates shouldn't do things like this; while it's good for business in the short term to save money, it's bad for business in the long term if people like Cole are even slightly less willing to sign either an extension or a free agent contract with the Pirates. As this article in the USA Today points out, Mike Trout was given $1 million pre-arbitration and subsequently signed an extension with the Angels to keep him in LA for six more years. The same article quotes Neal Huntington saying "Once you make an exception, how do you draw the line?...We believe our system is consistent and it's the right way to do things for us" in reference to the Pirates' algorithm used to determine pre-arbitration salaries. The system is clearly broken, though, when talented young players are not receiving compensation that accurately reflects their contributions to their clubs. Dave Cameron had a really interesting read on this issue as a whole over at Fangraphs today in which he discussed the system and possible fixes, including a type of insurance for young players in the event that they're injured, thus making it less worthwhile for players to sign cheap long-term extensions while they're young. (Cameron discusses the effect of changing the system on league parity and then posits this insurance as a potential solution, yet I think this would diminish parity because the financial security that early-career extensions give players is something the Pirates have relied on to obtain the services of players like Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in the prime years of their careers when they otherwise wouldn't have the financial means to accomplish this.) The possibility of having arbitration extend to players after fewer years of service time may also fix this issue, but that's something for MLB and the Player's Association to hash out for the next CBA.
The point that I think Huntington, the Pirates, and a lot of other organizations are missing is that this doesn't have to be a cut and dry, "plug in the values for the variables and see what the equation spits out" approach. There's a human element here because these decisions involve, well, humans. If you have a guy who goes out and performs at a really high level relative to his pay grade, show him some love and give him a salary bump! He'll appreciate it and good will can go a long way, even in the business of baseball. And really, how much money are the Pirates even squabbling over here? Say you bump his salary to $600,000 to show that you appreciate his work; that's a significant pay raise for someone that early in their career, yet it increases the Buccos' payroll by 0.06% (based on $96.6 million in payroll for this season currently). That's ridiculous to not even consider and the fact that the Pirates refuse to make judgements based on more than an algorithm for these types of salaries seems at best, misguided, and at worst, flat out wrong. Huntington's point about not being fair also seems senseless; the very nature of the business of baseball is unfair, with some players getting paid ungodly sums of money for their performance and others getting the league minimum or even worse in the minors. Rather than determining salaries through a way that's "consistent," maybe it would behoove the Pirates to determine pre-arbitration salaries in a way that makes sense based on performance, in the same way in which arbitration and free agent salaries are determined.
The bottom line here is that this is a relevant point for future pre-arbitration contracts, but it doesn't change this particular situation at all. Hopefully the front office, Gerrit Cole, and his agent (who should maybe focus more on getting Pedro Alvarez a contract somewhere than worrying about things he can't control) can all move forward from this and focus on the baseball season ahead.