Cards Offer Suppan and Mulder Arbitration

Jeff Suppan and Mark Mulder, two of seven eligible free agents, received arbitration offers from the St. Louis Cardinals, but they don't have to accept to continue to negotiate with the club.

At the conclusion of their 2006 World Championship season, the St. Louis Cardinals' roster included ten players who conceivably could have been free agents eligible for arbitration. That included Jim Edmonds, whose 2007 option was an open decision for the team.

At the time, I optimistically predicted five of the ten would be back in a Cardinals uniform for 2007. So far, three are already back in the fold, though I was only correct about two, having missed forecasting Gary Bennett's return.

Needless to say, I will score myself "incomplete" on this table for some time – at least until all these players have a 2007 home.

Name/Type

BW

Final

Forecast

 

Forecast

Decision

Accuracy

Type A

 

 

 

Jeff Suppan

Gone

 

 

Ronnie Belliard

Gone

 

 

Jim Edmonds

Re-sign

Re-sign

make

Type B

 

 

 

Mark Mulder

Re-sign

 

 

Jeff Weaver

Re-sign

 

 

Jason Marquis

Gone

 

 

Preston Wilson

Re-sign

 

 

Type C/no comp.

 

 

 

Jose Vizcaino

Gone

 

 

Scott Spiezio

Re-sign

Re-sign

make

Gary Bennett

Gone

Re-sign

miss

By midnight EDT on December 1, the Cardinals had to make a key decision on each of the seven free agents remaining. Would they offer arbitration to the player or not?

The club had at least three factors to consider in making this decision for each free agent:

1) Do they want the player back at the market price?

2) Do they want the compensatory draft pick(s) if the player declines their offer?

3) Do they fear the player will accept their offer?

Some decisions were likely easier for the Cardinals braintrust to call (Jason Marquis, Jose Vizcaino) than others (Mark Mulder, Jeff Weaver).

I had expected only one of the seven, Weaver, to be offered, with my guess that Preston Wilson would have re-signed early. In Wilson's case, I did not forecast an offer of arbitration.

So, while I predicted one of seven free agents would be offered, the reality was that the Cardinals offered two of seven – not what I expected.

Name/Type

Maximum

Cards Arb

Cards Potential

 

Compensation

Decision

Compensation

Type A

 

 

 

Jeff Suppan

1st or 2nd+sandwich

Offered

1st or 2nd+sandwich

Ronnie Belliard

1st or 2nd+sandwich

Not offered

none

Type B

 

 

 

Mark Mulder

sandwich pick

Offered

sandwich pick

Jeff Weaver

sandwich pick

Not offered

none

Jason Marquis

sandwich pick

Not offered

none

Preston Wilson

sandwich pick

Not offered

none

Type C/no comp.

 

 

 

Jose Vizcaino

N/A

Not offered

N/A

Now let's look at the players:

 

Free as a bird

 

Simply put, Jason Marquis, Ron Belliard, Preston Wilson, Jose Vizcaino and Jeff Weaver are now truly a flock of totally-free free agents, able to land anywhere for 2007 and beyond without any conditions, restrictions or penalties.

 

Of course, that means any of them could still return to the Cardinals, although that seems unlikely in all cases except Weaver, perhaps.

 

Vizcaino, Marquis and Belliard are certainly done in St. Louis. At least the Cardinals are still talking with Weaver, though the lack of progress in negotiations is disconcerting as mega-agent Scott Boras apparently focuses on higher-profile free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew. Originally, I thought Wilson might be back in 2007, but as time goes on and I hear other names being mentioned as outfield signing targets, I doubt that more and more.

 

Trying to set the hook

 

What about the two players offered arbitration? Are they coming back?

 

The odds only improved slightly as a result of these moves.

 

The Cardinals have been working to get a new deal done with Mulder for some number of days, but the big righty has been testing the waters. The Cardinals want him to take an incentive-laden deal, but if Mulder can get more years and more guaranteed money elsewhere, he certainly could bolt for the better deal.

 

In a curious move, the Post-Dispatch reports that Mulder apparently has agreed up-front not to accept the Cardinals' offer. Doing so would only seem to serve to limit his negotiation flexibility and leverage with the Cardinals somewhat, but the team is guaranteed a pick if he is lost.

 

Apparently, the volatility exhibited in the free agent marketplace led the Cardinals to offer Jeff Suppan. I clearly misread the intent of the Cardinals here, previously thinking he would not be offered.

 

While there is almost no chance Suppan will accept the offer, this way the Cards have at least signaled their clear interest in trying to get a deal done. And, in the likelihood they don't, they will still pick up a pair of decent draft picks.

 

It may also indicate they are somewhat serious about trying to sign a Type A free agent themselves, balancing out what they would have to forfeit with the draft pick return from Suppan's new club.

 

Let's keep talking

 

Again, the important thing to remember is that these decisions one way or the other do not preclude ongoing negotiations between the Cardinals and the players. That is new this year.

 

But, it does make a difference in two areas.

 

If the players are offered and accept, they will no longer be able to negotiate with any club other than the Cardinals. Suppan and Mulder have until midnight EST on the evening of December 7 to make that decision.

 

The second area of importance is that the Cardinals can only receive compensatory draft picks if they had offered arbitration to players that end up signing elsewhere.

 

Free agent compensation

 

For the Type A player offered, Suppan, if he signs elsewhere, the Cardinals will receive a compensatory pick from the signing team plus an extra, or sandwich pick between the first and second rounds.

 

If the Type B player offered, Mulder, signs elsewhere, the Cardinals will only receive that sandwich pick between the first and second rounds.

 

Where the exact placement of these picks will land in the 2007 draft order has a direct relation to which team signs the player and which teams took which other players. To clarify, please access the links below to two tables. Both tables can change daily, based on players signing. Think of it as a domino effect.

 

The first table shows which picks are lost/gained as the result of the signings of Type A free agents. If the signing team ended 2006 in the bottom half of the standings, they get to keep their first-round pick no matter what. In that case, if a Type A is signed, they lose their second-round pick. But, if the Type A-signing team ended up in the top half of the standings, they lose their first-rounder.

In addition, if a team signs more than one Type A free agent, they of course lose more than one pick. Which former team gets the highest pick depends on a comparison of the respective numeric Elias rankings of the free agents signed.

This table also shows the status of all the Type B free agents. That way, you can see at a glance (or two) who is still out there in the market.

The second table lists the actual order of the draft, including the sandwich picks being added between the first and second rounds. Remember that each Type A and Type B free agent who was offered arbitration and signs with a new club will generate one of these sandwich picks.

Looking ahead

Stay tuned as we learn in the next six days which players accept the offer of arbitration. More importantly, open signing season for free agents now officially begins. So, with the question of compensation off the table for a number of Type A's and B's who were not offered, expect a number of them to select new homes relatively quickly.

Following the December 7 acceptance date, the next key milestone in this process will be December 12, the date by which contracts must be tendered to players for 2007.

This will help determine the future of all players who are not either under contract or are free agents. The under-six year arbitration-eligible players in this group include Jorge Sosa, So Taguchi, Rick Ankiel, Aaron Miles and Randy Flores. The basic question here will be whether to offer these players or cut them loose.

Related articles:

"Arbitration One More Time"

"Suppan, Arbitration and the Past"

"Love Me (Non) Tender?"

"Breaking Down the Cards' Free Agent Picture"



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

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