Marquis: The Arbitration Case That Never Was

Brian Walton already prepared the arguments for both sides of what could have become a February arbitration hearing for Cardinals starter Jason Marquis and isn't about to waste them even now that both sides have come to terms. Some conclusions are also drawn about the future.

I had been thinking and writing about Jason Marquis' pending arbitration case for so long that I could recite either side's case most eloquently. As a result, I had decided to prepare a story to document it right here in case the big spenders on either side wanted to save a few bucks in consulting fees.


With Tuesday set as the day that the two sides would exchange figures, I was ready to plug in the amounts offered by each party, Marquis and the Cardinals, and run the story.


But, my best-laid plans were torpedoed when Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty announced Tuesday morning that the team and Marquis had come to terms on a one-year, $5.15 million contract, with $275,000 in innings-pitched bonuses.


With that news, my plans were out the window. But, being thrifty by nature and knowing there are some worthy points to still be made in the now otherwise-useless story, I searched for an acceptable alternative. 


I know! I could reuse part of my story for another Cardinals case. Nope, forget that. Marquis is the only Cardinals arbitration-eligible player remaining.


Oh well, I guess I will have to accept the fact that there is no way out. Still, I have decided to continue anyway, as if Marquis and the Cardinals were proceeding toward arbitration. Stay with me and I will do my best to make it worthwhile.


First, let's review the facts coming into Tuesday.


  • Marquis is a five-year-plus player in terms of MLB service time, noted as "MLS-5".
  • He was entitled to an arbitration hearing if he and the Cardinals cannot come to terms on a one-year contract or a multi-year contract prior to the hearing. Once it goes to hearing, it has to be a one-year deal.
  • Marquis had filed for arbitration and figures from both sides will be exchanged on Tuesday.
  • If they were unable to come to agreement, they would present their cases to a panel during a hearing next month. One of the two amounts is chosen for Marquis' 2006 salary. The arbitrators must award one figure or another.


I will digress here to share an interesting story that proves that a deal can be struck even after the hearing has begun. In fact, even after the hearing was over!


Several years ago, a relatively-obscure Houston Astros player, yet one who had survived long enough to become arbitration-eligible, named Tom Edens headed to his hearing. Later that night, after both sides had presented, Edens' agent called the Astros GM, Bob Watson, and the two parties settled at the midpoint of the two offers.


Apparently, after presenting their respective arguments that day, neither side was confident of victory. Since the agreement was reached prior to the arbitrator's decision being made, or at least in advance of it being announced, the agent-GM deal was ruled to be binding.


In a previous story last week called "Jousting for Jason", I stated several rumors and opinions about the contract situation. In summary:


The Cardinals


  • The Club apparently initially offered $4.5 million for 2006 or a three-year $17.5 million deal.
  • They may have only wanted a multi-year deal at below-market price.
  • They may explore other long-term options and consider trading Marquis in the spring, especially if Sidney Ponson and Anthony Reyes work out well in the rotation.




  • His opening offer was reportedly $7 million for 2006 and countered the Cards' offer with a price of $20 or $21 million for three years.
  • It seems unlikely that he would be motivated to sign for more than one year, instead testing out the free agent market this coming fall. A one-year deal would also keep his trade value relatively low, if he wants to stay put for 2006.


Arbitration criteria


The criteria for salary arbitration is called out in the contract between the MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), called the Basic Agreement.  They include:


  • Quality of the player's contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal).
  • Length and consistency of his career contribution.
  • Record of the player's past compensation.
  • Comparative baseball salaries.
  • Existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the player.
  • Recent performance of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indicator of public acceptance.


Equally interesting, even if not totally relevant to this story, are the non-admissable evidence, which includes:


  • Financial position of the player or Club.
  • Press comments, testimonials or similar material bearing on the performance of either the player or the Club, except that recognized annual player awards for playing excellence shall not be excluded.
  • Offers made by either player or Club prior to arbitration.
  • Cost to the parties of their representatives, attorneys, etc.
  • Salaries in other sports or occupations.


Now, if I had been preparing the arbitration arguments, here is where I would focus if I was representing:


…The Cardinals


In this situation, the key clause in the Basic Agreement is the "length and consistency of career contribution". Arguing the case from the Club's position, I would stress two points:


1) His year-to-year variances. Marquis has yet to demonstrate the consistency expected of top starters.


  • From an ERA perspective, Marquis went from 5.53 his final year in Atlanta to 3.71 in 2004 with the Cardinals, but jumped back up to 4.13 this past season. His 2005 was so up and down that there was talk of removing him from the rotation at more than one point.


  • While his 2004 ERA was 0.04 under the team average, his 2005 mark was 0.64 over the team mark – hardly a positive trend.


  • Marquis won over 2/3 of his 2004 decisions, ending up 15-7, but the next season, he posted a losing record (13-14).


2) His below-average contribution. I would point out that, although Marquis has pitched for a Division winner in each of his major league seasons, his performance has usually been worse than the average pitcher on his team. 


  • As a Cardinal, Marquis' won-loss mark of .571 (28-21) was substantially less than that of his team .621 (177-108) in all 2004-2005 games in which Marquis was not involved in the decision.


  • Marquis was not the team leader in any of the top 25 statistical pitching categories in 2005. Despite his best-ever ERA in 2004, Marquis obviously had a lot of help behind him, as he led the team in negative categories like hits allowed, walks allowed and hit batsmen.




In representing the player's perspective, I would drill down on at least three points:


1) He has played for a winner every year in St. Louis and in Atlanta.


·         The Cardinals won 205 games the past two seasons, with Marquis starting 32 games each season and pitching over 200 innings both years.


2) In addition to his pitching skills, he helps himself with the bat and is probably the best hitting pitcher in the major leagues. 


·         Marquis was called on to pinch-hit at least 13 times and batted .302 as a Cardinal in 159 at-bats. He has a home run and 19 RBI during that period. Marquis was awarded the National League Silver Slugger award for a pitcher in 2005.


3) His most recent season (usually referred to as his "platform year" in an arbitration proceeding) was his best one.


·         This is a weaker argument, as most measurements show his 2004 season was superior to 2005. Still, in 2005 Marquis allowed fewer hits than innings pitched for the first time in four years. He hit half as many batters as in 2004 and tossed his first three complete games ever, including one shutout. 


Establishing value


As I have looked further into comparable contract/experience situations, I believed even more than before that Marquis and the Cardinals would settle their differences on a one-year contract before the case proceeded to the hearing. Since Marquis is in his final season before becoming a free agent, the appropriate salary level for such a player had been pretty well-established already in past seasons.


Arbitration class of 2005


Let's take a look at the MLB-5 class from last year. All seven settled before a hearing. First, their 2005 salary, reached to avoid arbitration, is listed. Next are their new contract amounts, recognizing that each reached free-agent eligibility for the first time this offseason.


2005 MLB-5 Pitchers

2005 Salary ($M)

2006 Salary ($M)

Package signed

2006 Team
Tony Armas       



1 yr/$2.1M

A.J. Burnett     



5 yr/$55M

Octavio Dotel       



1 yr/$2M+

Kyle Farnsworth  



3 yr/$17M

Brad Penny       



3 yr/$25M

B.J. Ryan       



5 yr/$47M

Jarrod Washburn    






What can be learned here? Well, a year ago, Brad Penny settled for deal similar to Marquis' this year and Jarrod Washburn got even more in 2005 as an MLB-5 than Marquis in 2006.


Looking at the bigger picture, the four of the seven MLB-5's who remained injury-free in 2005 cashed in big-time for 2006 upon reaching free agency for the first time. Only Tony Armas, Octavio Dotel and Brad Penny did not break the bank compared to their 2005 salary. (Penny actually signed his extension last summer.)


Also, notice that the only two of the seven who "stayed home" for 2006 were the low-priced, injury-risk Armas and Dotel. The other five all chased the free-agent dollars elsewhere and each received from $6 million to over $9 million from their new employer starting in 2006. 


A final observation: Notice that two teams appear twice – the Yankees and Blue Jays. Every year, there seems to be a few clubs with deep pockets who can get the free agents they want. Does anyone think the world will be different next year?


Marquis' impact


What does this mean for Marquis? If he has a decent 2006 season for the Cardinals, this demonstrates the odds are even higher than previously thought that he should be considered gone for 2007.


Arbitration class of 2006


Compared to this year's class, Marquis' signing was the largest so far by half a million dollars and represents the largest raise - over $2 million. This is despite his ERA being only third best and his won-loss second best of the bunch. One has to wonder if the Cards could have paid a bit less by being more patient.


As an aside, from that group of players with two years less service time than Marquis, Florida's Dontrelle Willis settled on a $4.35 million deal this week, the largest first-year arbitration-eligible contract with a pitcher ever. That is yet another indication of the overall increase in pitching value in the marketplace.


Other MLS-3 players who have come to terms in recent days include the Angels' John Lackey ($3.76 million), Philadelphia's Brett Myers ($3.3 million) and Pittsburgh's Oliver Perez ($1.9 million).


In addition to Marquis, there were seven other MLS-5 pitchers eligible for arbitration, with three still unsigned:


2006 MLB-5 Pitchers Career ERA Career W-L 2005 Salary ($M) 2006 Salary ($M)
Vicente Padilla 3.95




Tomo Ohka





Jason Marquis





Bruce Chen





Adam Eaton





Kip Wells





Gil Meche





Ted Lilly





As the final three move toward their arbitration hearings, you can bet the Marquis deal will provide their agents with an even more compelling data point which to compare than the other examples noted above. Of course, just as in real estate assessments, each side will tend to use those examples which best support their position.




Bottom line, it is rare for an MLS-5 player's case to actually go to hearing. When you add to that the fact that Walt Jocketty hasn't allowed a case to be heard since 1999 and that was his only one as Cardinals general manager, you can see why it was a fait accompli that Jason Marquis' 2006 contract would be settled prior to his hearing date.


Now, Marquis' deal will become a benchmark against which other agreements will be made this offseason. Just don't expect Marquis' next contract to be with St. Louis, though.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at


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