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Staff ace Cole, shortstop Mercer agree to deals with Pirates

PITTSBURGH — No quibbling over Gerrit Cole's salary this season. The quibbling over closer Tony Watson's salary is heading to a arbitration panel.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and their young ace reached agreement Friday on a one-year deal that will pay Cole $3.75 million in 2017. That's a significant bump over the $541,000 Cole made in 2016, when the team offered him just $10,000 raise, a gesture that initially irritated Cole, after the former No. 1 pick won 19 games and made the All-Star team.

Eligible for arbitration this time, Cole and the Pirates found common ground instead. The 26-year-old is coming off a bumpy 2016 in which he went 7-10 with a 3.88 ERA and spent a significant portion of the season on the disabled list. Pittsburgh will ask Cole to anchor a revamped rotation that includes recently re-signed Ivan Nova and second-year starter Jameson Taillon.

Watson and the Pirates failed to come to terms before Friday's deadline, and will each appear before three arbitrators next month if no agreement is reached. Watson asked for a raise from $3.45 million to $6 million and was offered $5.6 million.

The left-hander took over the closer's role when the Pirates sent Mark Melancon to Washington at the trade deadline. Watson was steady if not spectacular as Pittsburgh slowly faded from contention, finishing with 15 saves and allowed a career-high 10 home runs in 70 appearances. An All-Star as a setup guy in 2014, Watson earned $3.45 million in 2016

The Pirates reached agreements with their four other arbitration-eligible players — shortstop Jordy Mercer and pitchers Juan Nicasio, Drew Hutchison and Jared Hughes — to deals before the arbitration deadline. Hutchison and Hughes came to terms on Thursday, while Mercer and Nicasio struck deals on Friday.

The 30-year-old Mercer will make $4,325,000 in 2017. He shook out of an early slump to hit .256 with 11 home runs and 59 RBIs in 149 games in 2016 and has become a pleasant surprise defensively.

Pittsburgh gambled the hard-throwing Nicasio could make it as a starter when they signed him in December, 2015. The experiment failed miserably. Nicasio was sent to the bullpen by mid-June, where he was effective at times in middle relief. The Pirates anticipate keeping Nicasio — who will make $3.65 million in 2017 — in the bullpen though considering the uncertainty at the back end of the starting rotation everything is on the table for the 30-year-old.

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