1999 marked the last time the St. Louis Cardinals went to an arbitration hearing with one of its players. The club, led by general manager Walt Jocketty, defeated pitcher Darren Oliver. The player asked for $4.15 million, but had to accept the team’s offer of $3.55 million.
Fast forward to 2017, as Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and pitcher Michael Wacha are slated to argue their cases regarding the pitcher’s salary for the upcoming season in front of a panel of three arbitrators in Arizona on Monday, February 13.
Just to put into perspective how much time has elapsed between the two hearings, in February 1999, Mozeliak had just celebrated his 30th birthday, having recently been named St. Louis’ amateur scouting director. Wacha, then seven years of age, was likely roaming the playgrounds of Texarkana, Texas.
The two sides are $425,000 apart on Wacha’s 2017 salary. If the hearing is conducted, arbitrators will decide between St. Louis’ $2.775 million offer and the hurler’s $3.2 million request.
During Winter Warm-Up in January, I asked Wacha if the difference of opinion regarding his salary was due to concern over his ongoing shoulder issues. The tall, right-hander replied that he did not know, stating the arbitration process was in the hands of his agent.
Update: Tuesday, February 14: The arbitrators' ruling was in favor of the Cardinals.
History – The DeWitt Years
Since 1996, when the current ownership led by Bill DeWitt Jr. took over, the Cardinals have had 65 eligible players file for arbitration. Over those 22 years, Oliver and Wacha were the only two to reach a hearing.
Here is the full list by year.
|Year||# Filed||Players Filed/Tendered||# Heard||Player Wins||Club Wins|
|1996||5||Clayton, Fossas, Lankford, Osborne, Stottlemyre||0||0||0|
|1997||3||Clayton, Osborne, Painter||0||0||0|
|1999||3||Botallico, Oliver, Renteria||1/Oliver||0||1|
|2000||5||Al. Benes, Bottenfield, Mohler, Morris, Renteria||0||0||0|
|2001||5||Al. Benes, Christianson, James, Morris, Paquette||0||0||0|
|2008||3||Ankiel, Molina, Wellemeyer||0||0||0|
|2009||5||Ankiel, Duncan, Ludwick, Thompson, Wellemeyer||0||0||0|
|2012||3||McClellan, Motte, Schumaker||0||0||0|
|2013||5||Boggs, Freese, Motte, Mujica, Rzepczynski||0||0||0|
|2014||3||Bourjos, Descalso, Jay||0||0||0|
|2015||4||Bourjos, Cruz, Jay, Lynn||0||0||0|
|2016||4||Adams, Maness, Moss, Rosenthal||0||0||0|
|2017||5||Adams, Martinez, Rosenthal, Siegrist, Wacha||1/Wacha||0||1|
Interestingly, during this time, no Cardinal has entered into the arbitration process for all three possible years. (A small percentage of players are actually eligible for four years.) Instead, they typically have their final year before free agency. However, Matt Adams and Trevor Rosenthal, currently at two and counting, could change that in 2018.
History – The Busch Years
During the 22-year period covering 1974 through 1995, 14 arbitration cases between the Cardinals and one of their players were heard. The club had a 57 percent success rate.
|Year||Cardinal||Player*||Club*||Club win||Player win||% club win|
MLB's salary arbitration process was introduced in 1974. Any player with just under three but less than six years of MLB service time is eligible for a salary arbitration hearing. (Those reaching six years of service become free agent eligible.)
The team and player exchange salary amounts on a one-year contract and usually negotiate and settle on a figure somewhere in the middle. But in the rare case in which the two sides cannot reach agreement, they go through a hearing. At that time, each side argues why they think the player should earn its submitted salary amount. A panel of three arbitrators hears the arguments and decides which side prevails, with no compromise.
The Cardinals initiated a change in strategy for 2017, following the direction of several other clubs. In an approach called “file and trial”, these teams treat the date to exchange arbitration figures (typically in early January) as a hard deadline. If the two sides cannot agree on a contract amount prior to formally exchanging salary figures, the club will no longer negotiate on a one-year deal. However, "file and trial" clubs usually remain open to discussing multi-year contracts right up to the February arbitration hearing.
This latter approach is what the Cardinals did with Carlos Martinez this year, as the two sides agreed to a five-year, $51 million contract between exchange and hearing. Three other eligible Cardinals, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist, came to terms on 2017 contracts with the club prior to the exchange date. Another potentially eligible player, Seth Maness, was non-tendered by St. Louis instead of entering this process. The right-handed pitcher became a free agent, and signed a minor league deal with Kansas City after auditioning for interested clubs.
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