Suppan, Arbitration and the Past

Looking into whether or not the St. Louis Cardinals might offer arbitration to free-agent starting pitcher Jeff Suppan.

I've received some questions about my arbitration predictions, specifically that of Jeff Suppan. A number of fans apparently believe it is a "no brainer" that Suppan will be offered by the Cardinals next week.

 

I don't see it that way and here is why.

 

In any case such as this, there are at least three factors to consider that could influence whether or not arbitration might be offered:

 

1) Does the team want the player back at the market price?

 

2) Does the team want the compensatory draft pick(s) if the player declines their offer?

 

3) Does the team fear the player will accept their offer?

 

Let's start at the end and work our way forward.

 

Fear of acceptance

 

While none of the leading free-agent pitchers have yet signed, the explosion in prices paid for free-agent hitters indicates pitching will go at a premium, also.

 

Remember that the Cardinals avoid arbitration like the plague. The last time they actually went to a hearing with a player was way back in 1999, with Darren Oliver.

 

Also, be aware that both sides, player and team, are not required to submit their respective amounts for a 2007 contract in preparation for a potential arbitration hearing until January 18. By that time, almost two months from now, some of the Barry Zitos and Jason Schmidts will have signed, establishing a clearer market value.

 

In this environment, is it unreasonable to assume Jeff Suppan might easily be able to build a case that he is worth at least $9 or $10 million next season?

 

Would the Cardinals want to pay Suppan that much? I think the answer is "Absolutely not".

 

Before you scoff at that amount, let's take a look back in time, as I think I can even build that case for Suppan right here and now.

 

One year ago, in calmer free agent times, Matt Morris was coming off a 14-10, 4.11 ERA season with the Cardinals. Subsequently, he secured three years for $27 million from the San Francisco Giants after the Cardinals (smartly) refused to ante up that kind of money for him.

 

In his final three seasons in St. Louis, Morris, who was 31 years old upon leaving them, had posted a aggregate 40-28 record with a 4.22 ERA.

 

Suppan's three years as a Cardinal: 44-26, 4.33. He is currently 31 years of age.

 

So, go ahead and tell me Suppan can't get huge money – more than he may be worth. It is going to happen – pure and simple. I just don't believe for one second that big-spending team will be St. Louis.

 

And, we haven't even discussed the challenge presented by a one-year Suppan deal at this price range eclipsing the $7 million 2007 salary of their ace, Chris Carpenter, something the team has stated publicly in the past they did not want to do.

Now, some would say this Suppan arbitration scenario will never happen. They believe the reality is that Suppan, knowing he could get at least three years on the open market instead of one year via arbitration, would not accept the Cardinals' offer.

 

I agree. So, let's move on.

 

Compensatory draft picks

 

This point is a central part of most arguments in favor of the Cardinals offering Suppan.

 

Suppan is a Type A free agent, meaning if the Cardinals offer and Suppan declines, the Cards would receive as much as a first-round plus a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in compensation for losing him.

 

The Cardinals would be idiots to pass that up, right?

 

Why stop there? In fact, if they were to offer arbitration to all their free agents, they could end up with as many as ten picks in the first two rounds. That could include eight compensatory picks plus their own two. So, why not go for it? Gorge on draft picks.

 

OK, fair enough. The team isn't about to make an offer to Jason Marquis, for example. But, what about Ron Belliard (Type A) and Type B players like Jeff Weaver and Mark Mulder?

 

Just how many top picks do the Cardinals really want? In other words, how much money do they want to spend on bonus babies?

 

MLB's lowest first-round signing bonus last year was just under $1 million and they went up from there to over $1.5 million for some players taken in the lower half of the round, where the Cardinals would draft. In 2006, second-rounders averaged over $630,000.

 

This could be partially mitigated if the Cardinals were to sign one or more Type A free-agents where they would forfeit their own first-round (and perhaps second-round) pick. However, in all likelihood, these high-profile guys aren't the Cards' targets, anyway.

 

That leads us to the third question.

 

Is Suppan wanted?

 

Yes. But, given all the above, is Suppan wanted enough to risk arbitration? No.

 

To close the loop, I have been told by Cardinals executives on numerous occasions over multiple seasons that they do not offer arbitration to players they do not want to keep, just to secure draft pick compensation.

 

Just in case you still doubt me, let's look back 12 months.

 

The Cardinals had seven free agents who could have fetched compensatory picks. To refresh your memory, they were:

 

Type A: Mark Grudzielanek, Matt Morris, Al Reyes, Julian Tavarez

Type B: Reggie Sanders

Type C: John Mabry, Abraham Nunez

 

Do you recall how many were offered by the Cardinals? Just one - Morris.

 

That's right. One year ago, the Cardinals passed up the chance to add eight additional draft picks. (Nunez signed with the Phillies in November, before the Cardinals had to make a decision on him, which gave the Cardinals an extra pick whether they wanted it or not.)

 

Why did they do that, or more accurately, why didn't they? Because they didn't want to keep those players at the market price they could have fetched and didn't want the compensatory picks, either.

 

Could I be wrong and the Cardinals offer Suppan on December 1? Yes, but I really doubt it. I don't think the Cardinals see the world much differently here in 2006-2007 and therefore, neither do I.

 

 

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

 

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