St. Louis Cardinals: What to Do About Izzy?

After seven years with the club, will reliever Jason Isringhausen leave the St. Louis Cardinals? Will he have a choice?

A very active thread on our message board is focused on discussion over whether or not the club should offer former St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen a one-year, incentive-laden contract to return for an eighth season.


Prior to the end of the 2008 campaign, there were rumblings that the Cardinals might want his veteran presence back in the bullpen to help the younger relievers such as Chris Perez and Jason Motte.


The general sentiment among those members of The Cardinal Nation commenting seems to be that it would be acceptable if the club made a low offer of an undefined amount with additional incentives if Izzy excels next season. Based on recent quotes, the player seems to be expecting this kind of offer, too.


As an aside, the latter could not be based on actual results, as "incentives" can only include measurements like number of appearances, games finished, innings pitched, awards received and the like.


Not even getting into the stats, expectations, baggage and risks involved with bringing Isringhausen back, here is why it is not worthy of serious discussion until December.


The two issues are timing and compensation, but when are they ever anything else?


As background, here are the relevant steps:


End of the World Series: The player has 15 days from then to file to become a free agent. Once the 15 days are past, the filing player is free to sign with any organization. Prior to then, the former club holds exclusive signing rights.


End of October (estimate): Elias Rankings are released. These determine the level of compensation involved if a free agent signs with a new club.


From 15 days after the end of World Series through December 1: If the player signs elsewhere, the previous club receives compensation for the player just as if arbitration had been offered.


December 1: The former organization must decide whether or not to offer arbitration to the free agent. If they do not offer, they receive no compensation when the player signs with another organization.


December 7: The player must accept or reject the offer if made. If the player accepts, he is back on his prior club's roster. If the two sides cannot come to agreement by February, the actual one-year salary amount would be decided via an arbitration hearing.


On the other hand, if the player declines the offer, he becomes a free agent eligible to sign anywhere for any amount, but strings are attached. His new signing team will be required to forfeit their first or second round draft pick if the player is ranked in the top 30% at their position (Type A) in the Elias rankings.


(The first vs. second round determination is tied to where the signing club ended the previous season in wins. If they are in the bottom half of MLB, they get to keep their first-rounder. The poorer clubs would lose their second-round pick when signing a Type A.)


Instead, if the player is designated a Type B (ranked 31% to 50% vs. his peers), the old club receives an extra compensatory draft pick between rounds one and two, but the new club loses nothing more than having to pick one spot later in rounds two through 50.


Now that we are through all the procedural mumbo-jumbo, what does it mean to the Cardinals and Isringhausen?


It means nothing of substance is likely to happen until at least December. Here's why.


End of the World Series: Izzy will certainly file for free agency during the 15 days following the end of the World Series.


End of October (estimate): While the Elias formulas are secret, one enterprising blogger has attempted to break the code. His projection has Izzy as a Type A free agent, primarily due to his solid 2007 season, though dragged down somewhat by his dreadful 2008.


From 15 days after the end of World Series through December 1: If Izzy is a Type A, no other organization will be motivated to sign him during this period. If they did, they would forfeit their first or second round draft pick next June.


As a result, even if the Cardinals make an early offer to Izzy, he may have a hard time securing competitive bids from other clubs against which to measure the Cards' proposed deal.


Yet if Izzy is highly motivated to return to St. Louis at any reasonable price, he could hop on the first offer given him – if one is made. On the other hand, the Cardinals could decide to bide their time, waiting to see what other relief options become available.


December 1: The Cardinals would not offer arbitration to Izzy due to the risk of having to pay an inflated one-year deal via the arbitration process. Not offering arbitration means they receive no compensation if Izzy signs elsewhere. Either way, offer or not, the Cardinals are still free to negotiate with the player without restrictions.


Some have asked why the Cardinals don't make a pre-agreement with Izzy that he would decline their arbitration offer. That would be good for the Cardinals as they would get a compensatory draft pick or two if Izzy signed elsewhere.


However, for Izzy, this agreement would be a bad move if he is named a Type A. That is due to the draft pick a new signing team would have to forfeit. Instead, if Izzy is non-tendered by the Cardinals, his new team would not have to give up a draft pick in signing him. If the player is thinking clearly, he isn't going to want to give up that negotiating leverage.


If a Type B


For purposes of this article, I had assumed the blogger's Type A projection to be accurate, but in reality it doesn't matter too much. Even if Izzy was to be a Type B instead, the Cardinals would still not offer him due to the risk of an arbitrator possibly setting his 2009 salary.


Izzy being a Type B would mean that other organizations would lose their de-motivation to try to sign him prior to December 1. In other words, it could accelerate the reliever's decision-making process – if he receives substantive offers early in the off-season, that is.


The bottom line


Given the dates and decision scenarios above, Izzy's recent elbow surgery coupled with his projected Type A free agent status should keep other organizations' interest relatively low, at least until after the Cardinals make the December decision not to offer him arbitration.


Another alternative is that both parties, Izzy and the Cardinals, get together quickly on a 2009 deal that both sides would consider fair. I question the Cardinals' motivation for wanting to act fast, however, as they may prefer to see if the grass is greener on the other side.


I wouldn't blame them one bit if they took their sweet time.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at


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