Love Me (Non) Tender?

A look at the arbitration status of several young Cardinals enable a forecast as to which players the team may cut loose rather than risk arbitration.

By December 1, the St. Louis Cardinals (and their 29 peers) are required to offer arbitration to those players eligible. The players then have until December 7 to accept or decline the offer.

In an earlier article on November 2, "Breaking Down the Cards' Free Agent Picture", I provided my views on which Cardinals free agents might be offered arbitration by the team.

The past reminds us that few eligible free agents are offered each year and even if so, the player rarely accepts, preferring instead to negotiate with all 30 teams, not just one.

Here is a summary of what I said at the time. The arbitration aspects still look pretty good today, three weeks later.

Starting Pitchers    
Name Type Arb Forecast Ultimate
    Team/Player Forecast
Jeff Suppan A Not offered Signs elsewhere
Mark Mulder B Not offered Re-signs
Jeff Weaver B Offer/Decline Re-signs
Jason Marquis B Not offered Signs elsewhere
   
2B, 3B, SS    
Ronnie Belliard A Not offered Signs elsewhere
Jose Vizcaino nc Not offered Signs elsewhere
Scott Spiezio nc Not offered Re-signs
   
Outfield    
Jim Edmonds A * N/A Re-signs
Preston Wilson B # N/A Re-signs
So Taguchi C (nc) Not offered Re-signs
   
Catcher    
Gary Bennett nc Not offered Signs elsewhere
Mike Rose nc Not offered Signs elsewhere
* signs extension
# signs new two or three-year deal

However, the focus of this article is another group of players also eligible for the arbitration process, albeit a less glamorous lot. I am talking those with fewer than six years of service time – in other words, players who are not yet allowed to test free agency.

These players have no choice but to accept their team's offer of arbitration, but in fact, are highly motivated to do so in order to experience their first taste of money above the minimum range.

While they have the right to take their team to arbitration to ensure they receive a competitive contract for the upcoming season, in reality, the two sides almost always come to terms on a single-year (or in some cases, multi-year) contract long before they would actually attend an arbitration hearing in February, just before players report to Spring Training.

Who applies?
There are two ways these under-six year players are identified. The first part is easy. We have the players with between three and six years of major league service.

The second group is smaller and less-defined and therefore, less understood. There are a group of players who, while they have slightly less than three years of MLB service, can join those eligible for arbitration. They are often called "Super Two" players.

Let's look at the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and owners for clarification.

From the 2003-2006 Basic Agreement, Article VI, Section F:
"In addition, a Player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if: (a) he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season; and (b) he ranks in the top seventeen percent (17%) (rounded to the nearest whole number) in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season..."

OK class, any questions? Now, we can understand why MLB is so lousy marketing itself. They spend all their cash on lawyers. The "Basic" Agreement, from which the above paragraph was extracted, is 223 pages. Can you imagine what the "Deluxe" version would entail?

In simple English, please
Anyway, let's translate the above. The top 17% of two-year-plus players, as measured in days of major league service, are treated just like those players with between three and six-years.

That means either they must be tendered a contract by December 1 or they become free agents. And again, even if they are tendered a contract, but they don't like it, they can take their team to arbitration.

It's just a place in line
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 was on his team's 25-man roster (or on the disabled list).

Why can't everyman know?
Where the rub lies here is in determining the days of service for each player. This information is held extremely close to the proverbial MLB vest. After all, they are lawyers first and marketers second.

What do we know?

One service year = 172 days.

Service time is accrued even if the player is suspended or on the disabled list.

The exact cutoff line for the top 17% varies each year. Usually it has been around two years, 128 to 130 days of service time, but it could be as high as 140. It all depends on the population mix in that given season.

Another thing we know is that savvy teams know this, too. As a result, there are cases when organizations try to manage the accrual of players' service times in an attempt to keep them short of this Super Two group.

How can they control that? By timing when players are called up and in how long they remain.

A team with a Super Two player could conceivably be taken to arbitration four consecutive years before the player would be granted free agency. Of course, the team could always non-tender the player instead, making him a free agent.

Who are they?
So, who are the Cardinals' Super Twos this season? Turns out that 17% line was drawn this year at exactly two years and 130 days. That means Randy Flores is in the money and Yadier Molina and Josh Hancock are out.

Super Two Player (arbitration-eligible) Service Time (years.days)   Also Arbitration-Eligible
Randy Flores

2.130

  Jorge Sosa
      Aaron Miles
      Rick Ankiel
      So Taguchi
Not Arbitration-Eligible      
Josh Hancock

2.129

   
Yadier Molina

2.123

   

In 2005, the Cardinals had no Super Twos.

The options
There are five options in terms of what happens next with each:

1) The team "pre-tenders" an offer to the player in attempt to induce the player to sign, with the implication that if the player does not accept, he could be non-tendered.

2) The player is non-tendered, making him a free agent.

3) The player accepts the team's contract offer.

4) The two parties prepare for arbitration, continuing to negotiate, then later submitting their salary amounts. They end up settling somewhere near the midpoint, eliminating the need for a hearing.

5) The matter goes to arbitration, where the arbitrator selects either the player's or the team's submitted amount on a one-year contract.

It should be noted that a vast majority of the cases that head toward arbitration are settled in advance, as in #4 above.

My forecasts

Josh Hancock – not applicable
Because he just fell short of Super Two status, Hancock's contract can be renewed by the Cardinals at an amount under $400,000. At that price, there is little doubt that he will be kept around for 2007.

The team is required to tender him a contract by December 12.

Yadier Molina – not applicable
Despite a poor regular season with the bat, Molina was arguably the Cardinals' best hitter in October. His value defensively is unquestioned.

The only suspense for both sides is whether or not to negotiate a multi-year deal at this time. With seven more days of service, if left to arbitration, up to a couple of million for Yadi in his first year of eligibility would not have been out of the question.

But, in reality, with more pressing matters, I predict the Cardinals will just give Yadi a decent raise for 2007, perhaps doubling his $400,000 2006 pay, and deal with locking up some or all his arbitration years at some point in the future.

Jorge Sosa – not offered
Sosa's inconsistency, highlighted by his 30 home runs allowed in 118 innings, having been left off the playoff rosters, plus his $2.2 million base salary last season make him a very strong non-offer candidate.

The way the CBA was negotiated, the Cardinals must pay Sosa at least 80% of his previous year's salary if they offer him arbitration. Instead, I think they will risk losing him by cutting him free.

The Cardinals could still attempt to re-sign Sosa for 2007 at a more appealing rate, but in doing so, they would have to compete for his services. So be it.

Rick Ankiel – offered/not offered
Similar to 2005-2006, the Cardinals may try to put a gentleman's agreement in place with Ankiel's agent Scott Boras to keep the outfielder around. The Cards could decide to offer arbitration, but it also wouldn't surprise me if they did not. It won't really matter all that much one way or the other.

If offered and went to arbitration, Ankiel, the oft-injured and unproven outfield prospect, wouldn't be able to get much at all above the minimum salary to which he is entitled. The history of Ankiel the pitcher is totally irrelevant. But, it would never get to that, anyway.

If not offered, Ankiel would technically be able to sign with any organization. Instead, a likely scenario is he will return to the Cardinals for one more shot in 2007 after making $335,000 in 2006.

Though no one would ever admit it, this contract situation could have played a part in the Cardinals not pushing Ankiel to play winter ball. At this point, all other organizations know is that Ankiel has yet to prove himself as a hitter above Double-A, required surgery this past spring and has been slow to recover since.

However, all this would still just delay the inevitable. One part of Ankiel the ex-pitcher's history is relevant. He cannot be sent down to the minors next spring without being exposed to waivers and his odds of making the big club seem to remain the longest of long shots.

Aaron Miles – offered
With no one else yet on the roster capable of playing second base in the majors, it would seem that the Cardinals will want to keep Miles, even though this is his first year of arbitration-eligibility.

After making $350,000 last season, it would seem the utility infielder could make in the $750,000 to $1,000,000 range in 2007. I expect the two sides to come to terms long before a hearing is held.

So Taguchi – not offered
This is the most difficult call for me to make.

Prior to the post-season, I was quite sure the Cardinals would cut their ties with the back-up outfielder, given his age and declining defense, previously his forte.

I am less confident about that now. While there are lower-cost replacements coming up through the system, they are likely not yet ready, though one could argue Skip Schumaker is a left-handed-hitting Taguchi.

Culturally, the Cardinals may not want to see So lose face by not offering him. On the other hand, it may be a more overriding factor that they may not want to risk arbitration with a 38-year-old reserve that is eligible for the first time.

When all the puts and takes are considered, I project the Cardinals will not offer, but make it exceptionally clear that they still intend to try to get Taguchi back. He made $850,000 in 2006.

Randy Flores – offered
It may not be a coincidence that the Cardinals now have six lefties on their 40-man roster, with the recent additions of Chris Narveson, Troy Cate and Randy Keisler to 25-man holdovers Flores, Tyler Johnson and Ricardo Rincon.

The downside of offering Flores is that he could make as much as a couple of million dollars in arbitration, based on the current market. With so many other options, the Cardinals might not want to invest that much in that roster spot in 2007.

Still, unless a trade is engineered in the next few days, the Cardinals have a far-too valuable commodity in Flores to let him walk. That doesn't mean he couldn't be traded later, however. In fact, Flores may represent one of the most the most underrated trade assets in Walt Jocketty's portfolio.

The others
Note that the contracts of these hold-over youngsters John Rodriguez, Brad Thompson, Adam Wainwright and Chris Duncan can be renewed by the club.

In conclusion
While there aren't many of them each season, remembering about Super Twos is an important part of general manager team salary budget and roster management as are those players between three and six years' experience.



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

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