Less than Six Year Cardinals Players

Brian Walton continues his review of the Cardinals roster by looking at those players with less than six years of service time. While they cannot yet become free agents, some of them do have choices to make.

To provide a complete view of the Cardinals contract situation for 2006, we also need to look at more than just the six-year marquee names who are free agents.  There is another very important group - players with three to six years of major league service who are not under contract for next season. 


These players are eligible for the arbitration process, but cannot yet file for free-agency. So, while the player is bound to remain with the same team, they get a fair chance to compete for a contract more closely tied to their market value. And if the team refuses to offer the player a contract valued at least 80% of the previous year's, then the player becomes a free agent. 


However, before we get into that, let's review the broader roster situation.  Like most teams, when looking at contract status, the Cardinals have a mix. Many players are in play, listed here in the middle three columns.


Under contract

Six-year free agents

Three-to-six year players

Super Twos

Less than three years






Chris Carpenter

Cal Eldred

Mike Lincoln (DL)


Carmen Cali

Jason Isringhausen

Matt Morris

Jason Marquis


Randy Flores

Ray King

Al Reyes (DL)



Tyler Johnson

Mark Mulder

Julian Tavarez



Brad Thompson

Jeff Suppan










Position players





David Eckstein

Einar Diaz


Rick Ankiel

John Gall

Jim Edmonds

Mark Grudzielanek



Hector Luna

Albert Pujols

John Mabry



Mike Mahoney

Scott Rolen

Abraham Nunez



Yadier Molina


Reggie Sanders



John Rodriguez





Scott Seabol





So Taguchi


Three years or less means little choice

On the far right those players with less than three years accrued service time are listed. The Cardinals can set any salary for these players as long as the minimum salary level is honored. But heck, most of those guys are just happy to be major leaguers.


Super Twos

You may have wondered about the column above, entitled "Super Twos". It turns out that nothing is quite as simple as it first appears. There are a group of players who have more than two years, but less than three years service each year, who receive the same rights to arbitration as the three-to-six year players. Hence the designation "Super Twos".


Specifically, the top 17% of players in terms of service time between two and three years of service become "Super Twos" as long as the players accrued at least 86 days of service during the previous season. Though the exact location of the line varies each year, traditionally included are those who have two years, 140 days or more.


Note this qualification as a "Super Two" player has nothing to do with ability, performance or results; simply it has to do with how long the player has been on his team's 25-man roster.


Ankiel again

For the second year in a row, with two years, 150 days of service, Rick Ankiel is the only Cardinal player in this group of Super Twos. Just as last year, when his service time was identical, the Cardinals will do everything possible to get Ankiel signed before December 7, so they wouldn't have to make a non-tender decision on him. He was added to the 40-man roster at the end of the season, primarily to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.


In addition to Ankiel, there are some interesting names on other teams who would fit the unofficial Super Two cutoff noted above. That group would include players like Ryan Freel, Dontrelle Willis, Chone Figgins, Reed Johnson, Kiko Calero, Sunny Kim, Marlon Byrd, Jody Gerut, Michael Cuddyer, Coco Crisp, Erik Bedard and Miguel Olivo.


Many times, teams explicitly manage the amount of major league service time young players accrue to try to keep them out of Super Two status. The reason? Save one year of a higher salary.


Back to the three-to-sixers

Teams like the Cardinals often have dilemmas with these three-to-six year players.  They can always keep them if they so choose, but it could get pricey in the process.  These players are sometimes overlooked as the money chases the big-name, six-year free agents. 


With these three-to-six year guys, teams have three primary options, with four possible outcomes:


1) Offer a one-year deal, to be signed before or after arbitration

The team presents a one-year offer to the player, who can either sign or if he does not like the amount, has the right to instead take the team to an arbitration hearing.  There, an arbitrator will listen to the team's view of the player's value and the arguments from the player's representative. Each side submits a single value for the player for the upcoming season. The arbitrator will decide one or the other – no compromise.


Remember that because the player is arbitration-eligible, the offer can be no less than 80% of the previous year's salary. If the hearing is actually held, then both parties are bound to accept the arbitrator's ruling, no matter whether the player's amount or the team's amount is selected. 


2) Sign him to a long term deal

If the three-to-six year player is really good, such as Albert Pujols two years ago, teams realize they may have to ante up huge raises as a result of an arbitration hearing each year.  So, to avoid that every-season salary escalation and the ill-will that could ensue from a series of contentious hearings, teams instead look to locking the player up for some number of years into the future with a multi-year deal.


Even though technically the teams don't have to, early signing of a key player to a long-term contract helps them better plan salaries into the future. And in many cases, such as Pujols', they are assured of keeping the player long after he could have tested the market as a six-year free agent. Obviously, that is a huge plus. Pay a bit more now, but perhaps a lot less later.


3) Cut him loose

In other cases, even with a 20% pay cut, the three-to-six year player may be deemed too expensive. Instead of being offered a contract with the possibility of arbitration, he is cut loose, or non-tendered.  This year's deadline for teams to make that decision is December 7. If the player is not offered arbitration, he is free to seek employment elsewhere.


An example of a player in this category last year was Marlon Anderson, who was not offered arbitration and instead signed a deal with the New York Mets. An even better case is David Eckstein, who was non-tendered last December after four years of service with the Angels.


Cardinals three-to-six year players

Expected to be tendered 2005 contract

Mike Lincoln (DL)


Jason Marquis



Marquis staying

I expect that Jason Marquis will certainly be tendered a contract and will either remain a Cardinal in 2006 or perhaps will be traded. But, he will not be cut loose. Without seeing the amounts offered, it is impossible to predict he will go to arbitration before signing, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Marquis receive a deal in the $5 million range. 


Lincoln gone unless flexible

Mike Lincoln's situation is similar to last year, but 12 more months have passed without him throwing a pitch. Because of his series of operations, it is unclear when Lincoln will be ready to pitch again.  Even if the Cards want him back, they may not be willing to invest more money in him


If they would re-sign Lincoln at all, the Cardinals likely would be inclined to offer him a contract that would pay a minimum plus incentives that could allow him to approach his former contract levels. Lincoln might be agreeable to that (much as Chris Carpenter was after his injury season in 2003), but the Cards would have to non-tender Lincoln to make such a contract proposal, with the risk that some other team could jump in with a guaranteed offer.


Given Lincoln's significant injury history, that isn't a huge risk for the Cardinals to take. He'll either sign a bargain-basement deal, or more likely be gone.


A look back at last year

Last year at this time, the Cardinals had five players in this three-to-six year category. Jason Marquis, Mike Lincoln and Al Reyes each signed one-year deals, Ray King signed a two-year deal with an option year and Anderson was let go. None of them went to arbitration.


A source of new players, too

Those players non-tendered by other teams can be signed without compensation. As a result, teams look forward to seeing the non-tender list with the hopes of picking up some interesting players at a bargain price. 


For example, in addition to the aforementioned Eckstein, the Cards also signed Mike Matheny and Kent Bottenfield that way after they were non-tendered by the Blue Jays and Cubs, respectively.  Even more important than the 18 wins Bottenfield registered in 1999 was his spring training 2000 trade to the Angels along with Adam Kennedy that fetched Jim Edmonds.

Do you really want more?
In case you're interested, there are more flavors of free agency. In addition to the non-tendered free agents, we have the released free agents, the refused-assignment-to-the-minors free agents, the minor-league free agents and the undrafted free agents. 


Examples of those five classes would be Mike Matheny (non-tendered in the winter of 1999/2000 by the Jays and signed by the Cards), Al Reyes (signed by the Cards after he was released by the Tampa Bay organization in mid-2004), Steve Lake or Chris Widger (signed by the Cards in 1987 and 2003, respectively, after they refused assignment to the minors by the Cubs and Yankees, respectively), Kiko Calero (signed by the Cards in the winter of 2002/2003 as a six-year minor-league free agent from the Royals), and most of the players coming out of Latin America (plus Ken Oberkfell, who signed with the Cards in 1975 after going undrafted).


The point is that there are a lot of ways to lose players and just as many ways to acquire them.


A parting shot

Is it too early to start to look at those six-year free agents who may be in the spotlight next off-season? Probably the highest-profile player is Mark Mulder. In addition, Jim Edmonds and Ray King have team options at the end of their current deals about which the team will have to make decisions before we know it. Of course, in King's case, it may well be a team other than the Cardinals making that call.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


(Note: Article updated on 11/07 to properly reflect Rick Ankiel's status.)

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