Perrotto: Pirates Unnecessarily Risk Hurting Relationship with Potential Star
There were a couple of interesting moments during the early days of the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training camp.
Breaking up the monotony of the daily workouts was the site of owner Bob Nutting and outfielder Bryan Reynolds chatting at the batting cage on one of the Pirates’ practice fields at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
It happened on back-to-back days.
Nutting said he wanted to soothe any ill feelings that might have existed between Reynolds and the Pirates. The two side were unable to reach agreement on a contract extension, prompting Reynolds to request a trade in December.
Reynolds is still with the Pirates and there are no signs he is close to being traded. The no-trade request has become a non-issue.
One Pirates player who definitely will be staying put for a while is shortstop Oneil Cruz. He is not eligible to file for free agency until after the 2028 and can’t even go to a salary arbitration hearing until 2025.
However, the Pirates made an interesting move with Cruz earlier this week when they renewed his contract for $720,000, which is the new major-league minimum salary this season.
Though Cruz did get a $20,000 raise by virtue of the MLB minimum being raised, he leverage in the negotiations. Players who don’t have the major league service time required to be arbitration-eligible are at the mercy of their teams.
Some teams will renew a player at the minimum if he does not agree to a contract as a form of punishment The Pirates did that with Cruz.
General manager Ben Cherington certainly was within his right to make the move but it didn’t make sense.
The Pirates likely wouldn’t have signed Oneil Cruz for any more than $725,000, so they are basically saving tip money by baseball’s financial standards with the renewal. Five grand is not going to even break penurious Pirates, who seemingly watch every penny under Nutting’s stewardship.
Yes, it was the principle of the matter for the Pirates. But was it worth potentially upsetting the player who is considered the main foundational piece of the franchise’s long rebuilding process?
The Pirates did the same thing with right-hander Gerrit Cole during spring training in 2016, renewing him at his same salary of $531,000 from the previous season when he was a 19-game winner.
Then-GM Neal Huntington backpedaled and wound up paying Cole an extra $10,000, saying the Pirates made a miscalculation with their formula for paying non-arbitration players.
The move set a bad tone in the clubhouse in spring training that year on the heels of trading popular second baseman Neil Walker the previous winter. The Pirates wound up with a 78-83 record, ending their string of three straight postseason appearances and they haven’t been back to the playoffs since then.
Maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal in the long haul. Cole is now in the fourth season on a nine-year, $324-million contract with the New York Yankees.
Oneil Cruz will certainly make up for the lost money if he comes close to living up to his vast potential.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have talked about a player-centric culture ever since Cherington and manager Derek Shelton took over prior to the 2020 season. Yet they’ve upset two of their best players in the span of four months.
Nutting might need to have another cage conversation.