With Carlos Martinez’ new long-term contract on the books, Diaz, 27, could be the next candidate to be locked up, perhaps as soon as this coming off-season. On the other hand, Peralta, 35, is likely to depart. (Ages this fall.)
The two played the same position in the field – shortstop – and each signed a four-year Major League contract that covered the 2014-2017 seasons. Even at the time, the veteran Peralta was expected to be moved to another position, likely third base, later in his contract, when the Cuban Diaz, over eight years younger, was deemed to be ready to take over.
That plan seemed in dire jeopardy as Diaz scuffled badly in the minor leagues for most of his first two seasons. His hitting deteriorated to the point that he was demoted from Double-A to high-A for several weeks in 2014. Halfway into year two, Diaz was hitting in the .230s and was removed from the 40-man roster, passing through waivers unclaimed. Soon, he unexpectedly took off, progressing from Springfield to Memphis to the Arizona Fall League in rapid succession.
In spring 2016, injuries to Peralta and Ruben Tejada - the latter brought in from the outside to replace the former – unexpectedly opened the door for Diaz to begin the season not only with St. Louis, but also in the everyday lineup. As Diaz hit from day one and his defense settled down a bit, it meant the original plan was finally realized. Diaz remained at short, with Peralta moving exclusively to third when he came off the disabled list and returned to the active roster.
Heading into 2017, the four are set to continue to play alongside one another, comprising the left side of the Cardinals infield. While Diaz’ job seems secure, Peralta’s veteran status does not assure him of anything. The 34-year-old needs to play well to hold off a potential challenge from Jedd Gyorko.
As noted, where their paths are most likely to diverge is during the 2017-2018 off-season. While both original contracts end, Peralta will become free agent eligible again and may not be asked back. However, Diaz will still lack the necessary six years of major league service required to secure free agent status.
His situation is a unique one, with St. Louis essentially securing Diaz’ services for eight seasons – from 2014 through 2021. The following table clarifies his status each year.
|2014||0.000||23||Year 1||$0.5M||Plus $2M signing bonus|
|2016||0.000||25||Year 3||$2.0M||MLB rookie season|
|2018||2.000||27||StL control||TBD||pre-arbitration eligible|
|2019||3.000||28||StL control||TBD||arbitration eligible|
|2020||4.000||29||StL control||TBD||arbitration eligible|
|2021||5.000||30||StL control||TBD||arbitration eligible|
|2022||6.000||31||free agent eligible|
As noted, Diaz will complete his original four-year, $8 million contract following the 2017 season. Unlike Peralta, however, the shortstop will be under Cardinals team control for another four years afterward.
At the end of this coming season, the Cuban native will have accrued two years of Major League service time, leaving him a year short of arbitration eligibility and four seasons away from free agency.
Given Diaz’ status as a pre-arbitration player, the Cardinals could set his 2018 salary at any level, even cutting his 2017 pay rate if they so choose. However that is highly unlikely. What will follow 2018 is his standard three seasons of arbitration-eligibility from 2019 through 2021.
For more likely than Diaz going year to year starting in 2018 would be the negotiation this coming winter of a second four-year contract to cover his 2018 through 2021 seasons. One or more options could be included.
Of course, the price will be higher than the $8 million in total the Cardinals paid the first time around, but still less than free agent value because of his service time. His likely annual salaries could be expected to be in the vicinity of other shortstops of similar skill and experience, as is the underpinning of the arbitration process. Perhaps there would be a premium increase to reflect his more extensive playing resume.
That second four-year deal (without options) would enable Diaz to again become a free agent in the 2021-2022 off-season at the age of 31.
As a comparison, Andrelton Simmons signed a seven-year contract with Atlanta three years ago. Since traded to the Angels, the shortstop is making a total of $28 million over what would have been his four seasons before reaching his free agent point at six years of service. His annual salaries are $3 MM, $6 MM, $8 MM and $11 MM. Given the four years passing of time since, Diaz’ take would almost certainly be higher.
Though the full ramifications of Diaz’ free agent status is not understood well by many, knowledgeable fans can expect the Cardinals to work to resolve his long-term contract situation this coming fall.
Who knows? Maybe by the time that deal is done, Diaz will have been moved to third himself to make room for the next young gun at short, expected to be 2016 first-round draft pick Delvin Perez.
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