The Mulder Matrix

Looking at all the variables of injury, ineffectiveness, impending free-agency, possible arbitration and more in coming up with the odds of pitcher Mark Mulder remaining with St. Louis beyond this season.

Ever since St. Louis Cardinals left-handed starting pitcher Mark Mulder began to have trouble on the mound this season, I have wondered how his misfortunes might translate to Mulder's future with the team.

There are a number of ever-changing variables, of which we know the answer to none.

For example, will Mulder continue to pitch poorly the rest of 2006? Or, will he pack it in and undergo shoulder surgery? Or, could he somehow get it together and pitch like the Mulder of old for the next couple of months?

Granted, based on his four earned runs allowed in four innings Thursday night, the latter option doesn't look promising. But, it does remain a possibility.

Furthermore, will the Cardinals offer Mulder arbitration this winter or will they let him walk without compensation in fear of getting stuck with a big one-year payday via an arbitration hearing?

Or, if Mulder has surgery, will he have any choice but to settle for an incentive-laden one year contract, like Matt Morris did nearly two years ago? And if so, would he be more likely to make that deal to remain with the Cardinals?

These are some of the questions around which I created a concoction I call "The Mulder Matrix".

Its rows represent time, starting now through next March. In each row, I list a set of possibilities and assign my personal, subjective odds to each, with each row totaling 100%. At the bottom, I add it all up.

My conclusion is that unless Mulder needs to have surgery and as a result, settles for a low-guarantee, high-incentive contract, he is most likely gone from St. Louis starting in 2007.

But, in the scenario that Mulder does go under the knife, I give Walt Jocketty and the Cards decent odds of keeping him. That is because Mulder's financial terms would have to be lowered more to Jocketty's liking, enabling Walt to compete for the pitcher's continued services if he so chooses.

So, in a backwards kind of way, if you are a Cardinals fan who wants Mulder back in 2007, you should hope he follows Morris' surgical path.

As a point of reference, our injury expert, Rick Wilton of Baseball-Injury-Report.com, has asserted for weeks that Mulder will undergo surgery by November 1 and the struggling lefty's recent rehab outings have only strengthened Wilton's opinion.

Ultimately, all things considered, I conclude Mulder will likely leave the Cardinals, with the team receiving no compensatory draft picks. That is because I think it is highly unlikely, current course and speed, that the team will offer Mulder arbitration this winter. And I believe it is even lower odds that Mulder would accept arbitration if offered.

All told, I currently peg it at 67%-to-33% in favor of Mulder leaving.

Now thru Oct.         No surgery        
  Pitches well 10% Pitches poorly 45% Surgery 45%
   
by Dec. Cards offer arbitration 10% Cards decline to offer arbitration 60% Signs incentive-laden offer w/Cards 30%
   
by Jan. Mulder accepts 3% Mulder declines 7% Mulder free agent with no comp required  
  Cards get two draft picks Cards forfeit two draft picks  
by March Arbitrator sets contract via hearing Parties agree to deal before hearing Parties agree to deal before hearing Looks for Burnett-like deal with other team Looks for Burnett-like deal with other team  
  One-year deal to stay in StL One-year deal to stay in StL Multi-year deal to stay in StL Signs with other team Signs with other team Re-signs with Cards after May 1 Signs incentive-laden deal with other team Stays in StL on incentive deal
   
Odds 0% 2% 1% 7%   45% 0% 15% 30%

Summary Odds:  
Mulder stays 33%
Mulder leaves with compensation 7%
Mulder leaves with no compensation 60%

In the first table, you probably noted my choice of words, "Burnett-like deal", meaning roughly five years, $55 million. Whether or not Mulder actually secures such a lucrative deal is surely unknown, but my intelligence says that before his injury, that was in the range of time and money his agent was seeking from the Cardinals.

Recent history suggests some over-anxious general manager will panic and overpay somewhat for Mulder, if he hits the open market with a clean bill of health. Recent history also suggests that general manager will not be named Walt Jocketty.

In closing, remember that this is just one man's view and I reserve the right to adjust these percentages as additional facts become known.

In the meantime, let the debates begin!

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

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