Kevin Gorman: Time for Pirates to put an offer on table for Jameson Taillon
BRADENTON, Fla. — Jameson Taillon follows the business side of baseball with keen interest, from free agency to arbitration, and the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher was captivated by a trio of cases that could affect his future as the face of the franchise.
Mostly, Taillon was thrilled to see Gerrit Cole win his hearing against the Houston Astros for an arbitration-record $13.5 million salary this season, doubling his 2018 earnings.
“I was happy for him,” Taillon said. “Gerrit obviously is extremely interested in the process and how arbitration works and stuff. I knew he was committed to going into his case and, you know Gerrit, he’s going to help his own cause and be involved in the process so I know he put a lot of time into it.”
Cole was 15-5, with a 2.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and MLB-leading 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings for the Astros last year, after being acquired in a January 2018 trade with the Pirates for pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, third baseman Colin Moran and minor-league outfielder Jason Martin. That deal looks lopsided, but the Pirates didn’t believe they could sign Cole to a long-term deal and probably were right.
The Philadelphia Phillies, however, avoided arbitration with 25-year-old ace Aaron Nola by signing him to a four-year, $45 million contract extension that bought out two years of free agency.
Maybe Nola would have thought twice about his deal if he had known what Cole would win.
Nola was 17-6, with a 2.37 ERA, 0.975 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season, putting up better numbers for half the 2019 salary but more long-term security.
“Gerrit, I was really happy for him on a personal level but Gerrit, by winning his case, pushed forward that starting pitcher market, which has been kind of stuck in arbitration for awhile,” said Taillon, who replaced Cole as the Pirates’ MLB Players Association representative.
“With Nola, I don’t know him but I just sense that the Phillies would try to lock a guy like that up. I’ve heard they’ve had some money to spend, and he’s their guy. … Good for him.”
Perhaps, but Nola’s deal is far below market value.
That could be bad for Taillon’s future with the Pirates, now that Cole has cashed in and Nola sold himself short. Not that the Pirates have made any attempts to lock up Taillon with a long-term contract, allowing him to play for slightly above the MLB minimum at $575,000 despite going 14-10, with a 3.20 ERA and 1.178 WHIP last season.
Taillon has heard nothing about an extension from the Pirates.
“We haven’t talked about anything,” Taillon said Thursday at Pirate City. “You never know, my agent could be in contact with them at some point but I haven’t heard anything right now. I mean, I’m pitching for the minimum and, right now, that’s a pretty good deal so I understand there’s a side of everything and how it works. Right now, I’d be ready to just go year to year because that’s all I can do.
“That’s all I know, all I’m getting ready for.”
That’s a risk the Pirates have to weigh, considering the arbitration outcome of another pitcher. Trevor Bauer won his case against the Cleveland Indians for $13 million, only to insist he will only sign one-year contracts for the remainder of his career.
That could be tempting for Taillon, seeing the bigger payday for pitchers came by taking teams to free agency. Taillon used Max Scherzer’s seven-year, $210 millon contract with the Washington Nationals in 2015 — half is deferred in $15 million annual payments through 2028 — as an example of a player who took a calculated risk.
“I love a guy who bets on himself,” Taillon said of Bauer. “That fires me up, a guy who is confident in himself.”
The Pirates’ strategy could be as simple as drafting and developing players, maximizing their value through their 20s and either trading them when they reach arbitration, like Cole, or before they reach free agency, like Andrew McCutchen.
In Taillon, the Pirates have a potential combination of Cole and Cutch, a player who can be the ace and face of their franchise. They made Taillon the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, and he’s appreciative that the Pirates made that investment in him (over Manny Machado) and shown patience through his injuries on his way to stardom.
“I don’t try to be that; I just try to do my job,” Taillon said of the ace-and-face tag. “But when I got called up, we had Cutch and we had these guys who the city could look to and identify what Pirates baseball is. I think it’s nice from a fan perspective to have somebody you can root for.
“I bought a place in Pittsburgh. This city means a lot to me. This organization took a chance on me. They drafted me out of high school. It’s not something where I’m waking up every day, going, ‘I’ve got to represent baseball in this city.’ I’m just trying to do my job. But, at the same time, yeah, I’ll embrace it. I’ve connected with the city, with the fans — I’ve connected with them a bunch over the years — and if I am someone they look at, it’s awesome.”
Taillon is someone the Pirates should be looking to lock up, not as a goodwill gesture to fans but rather as a cornerstone for a club that talks about winning a World Series but is silent when it comes to spending.
It’s time for the Pirates to put one on the table for Taillon.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.