Jousting for Jason

A Jason Marquis – St. Louis Cardinals contract negotiation update.

Despite recent word from the Cardinals that they are only talking a one-year contract with arbitration-eligible starting pitcher Jason Marquis, my sources tell me otherwise. Allegedly, both one and three year deals have been offered by the team.

 

The Cardinals are motivated to get Marquis signed soon, as the arbitration filing period ends this coming Sunday, January 15. Team and player are then bound to submit their binding figures for a one-year deal by next Wednesday the 18th.

 

The two parties have until next month to both continue negotiations and to prepare their cases to present to an arbitrator at a session to be scheduled sometime during the period of February 1 – 21. Even after salary amounts are exchanged, the sides are typically motivated to come to agreement prior to the actual hearing. In the past, some cases have been settled literally in the hallway outside the hearing room.

 

As I reported previously in a December 5 story entitled "Jocketty's Arbitration Record", during his 11-year tenure as Cardinals general manager, Walt Jocketty has had only one arbitration case proceed to hearing out of the 32 possible cases prior to 2005.

 

The amounts I have heard tossed about in the negotiations follow. First of all, Marquis and his agent have taken the initial position they would like $7 million for his services for the 2006 season.

 

The Cardinals have reportedly offered $4.5 million for a one-year deal and despite comments that single year was it, I have been told the team has, in fact, also placed a three-year bid on the table for Marquis' consideration in the amount of $17.5 million.

 

While I do not know the breakdown of this offer year by year, a reasonable guess would be $4.5 million in 2006, followed by $6 million in 2007 and $7 million in 2008. A signing bonus could optionally be part of the mix.

 

Marquis allegedly countered, wanting $20 or $21 million for the three seasons. This could be a $6 million, $7 million, $8 million type of scenario, but the yearly spread is just an educated guess on my part.

 

Analysis – Marquis

 

I do not think Marquis will accept either of the offers presented by the Cardinals.

 

By taking a three-year deal, Marquis would forfeit his first two years of free agency. Based on the amounts other pitchers inferior to him have received this offseason, there is a decent likelihood that Marquis can do better than $13 million total for 2007 and 2008 seasons if he has a decent 2006 season and decides to test the free agent market next fall.

 

The main reasons this multi-year scenario might appeal to Marquis is three-fold: If he has doubts about either his ability to stay healthy or his future results on the mound, he might want to sign now. Or, if he really wanted to remain a Cardinal, which I am unsure of, he could jump at the deal.

 

However, in that scenario, he could just as easily wait, knowing that a decent 2006 would only increase the Cards' offer following the season. After all, while the Cardinals have a wealth of starters now, it is shaping up to be a different situation come October. More on that in a minute.

 

A one-year deal at $4.5 million would be a good deal for the Cardinals, which is why I predict Marquis will not accept it.

 

Analysis – Cardinals

 

It is admirable that the Cardinals are trying to sign Marquis to a multi-year deal now, before they risk losing him this fall with either draft pick compensation or nothing at all to show for him. If they decide they want to keep him, they have a known quantity in their rotation for three more seasons and have one less open situation to worry about for this coming fall.

 

On the other hand, if the Cardinals sign Marquis to a multi-year deal and want to trade him, they have a valuable chit – a young pitcher under contract for three years at a rate, which while not dirt cheap, is still a decent deal.

 

Yet, I think this is all a moot point. I do not see the Cardinals' three-year offer as nearly competitive enough and suspect that they really only want Marquis signed that long if they can get a below-market deal.

 

Marquis' one-year request for $7 million seems a bit excessive and I imagine his camp knows that. I do not expect the Cardinals to give serious consideration to it. While the $20 - $21 million counteroffer may be a reasonably-accurate estimation of 2007 and 2008 value, I don't see the Cardinals taking that risk at this time at those prices.

 

Prediction

 

Based on the information I have at this point in time, I do not think the Cardinals will put a multi-year deal on the table that is rich enough to capture Marquis' fancy. I do not think that will necessarily upset the Marquis camp, nor do I see them dropping their three-year price much.

 

Based on the size of the gap between the one-year offers discussed ($4.5 million versus $7 million), I also do not think that the two sides will come to agreement prior to arbitration amounts being exchanged.

 

My expectation is that the Cardinals come in at $5 million, while Marquis asks for $6 million via arbitration. I predict the two sides will settle sometime later this month on a one-year contract for 2006 in the range of $5.5 million, avoiding a hearing.

 

Looking ahead

 

The downside of a one year deal for the Cardinals is that they may not be able to easily trade Marquis even if they want to, and the odds of him walking after the 2006 season increase.

 

It also puts more pressure on the team to sign Mulder to an extension, since at this point, only two members of the "Big Six", Chris Carpenter and Anthony Reyes, are assured of being under team control in 2007.

 

In fact, I have heard that the pecking order for pitching contracts are Marquis, Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan. Ideally, they would like to sign two of them, I am told. But, even if Marquis is somehow signed quickly, there is no indication that Mulder would follow right behind. That situation could drag out for months while Suppan simply has to wait. And who knows what will happen with Sidney Ponson?

 

So, this saga is far from over…

 

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

 

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