Across the game, only two players accepted, ones I would categorize as being only moderately appealing at best in the current market – the Reds' David Weathers and former Cardinal Darren Oliver, remaining with the Angels.
The next batch
The next key off-season deadline related to arbitration is coming this Friday, December 12. The Cardinals have eight major leaguers that have accrued from just short of three years up to six years of Major League service time and are not already under contract for 2009. Though they are not yet eligible for free agency, they do have some leverage for the first time, however.
The Cardinals control the rights of all eight for at least next season if they offer the player arbitration by the Friday deadline, but if the two sides cannot agree on a contract for 2009, the player has the right to take the club to a hearing to set the amount.
Another option is for the team to let the player go, or non-tender him. This is the route the Cardinals have used recently with end-of-the-roster players like So Taguchi in 2006 and Aaron Miles last winter.
Even if the club might want the player back, the Collective Bargaining Agreement ensures a player must make at least 80% of his previous year's salary. Instead, the team non-tenders the player and may try to re-sign him later at a lower rate with no restrictions.
In both of the examples cited above, the player did return, though there is no obligation on either side to do so.
These eight are as follows, with their position, service time, my prediction as to the Cardinals' action this week and finally, how I think this will play out:
|eligible||Pos||time||for Dec. 12||of result|
|Ankiel, Rick||OF||5.033||Offer||Re-sign one year|
|Duncan, Chris||OF||2.144||Offer||Re-sign one year|
|Flores, Randy||LHR||4.130||Non tender|
|Johnson, Tyler||LHR||3.005||Offer||Re-sign one year|
|Ludwick, Ryan||OF||3.109||Offer||Re-sign one year|
|Miles, Aaron||MI||5.027||Offer||Re-sign one year|
|Thompson, Brad||RHR||3.110||Offer||Re-sign one year|
|Wellemeyer, Todd||RHS||5.009||Offer||Re-sign one year|
Not much suspense
Of the eight, I see only left-hander Randy Flores (right) at risk of not being offered and that is a serious risk, in my opinion. In fact, Flores very well might have been in the same situation one year ago had he not inked a two-year deal prior to the 2007 season. Another rough year later and Flores looks to be gone.
If not offered a 2009 contract by Friday, Flores will be become a free agent able to seek employment anywhere in baseball. That includes potentially coming back to St. Louis, though he no longer seems a part of the team's plans from the left side.
Of the others, I see four as stone cold locks: outfielders Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick plus starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer. All are expected to play major roles on the 2009 Cardinals and will be kept for sure.
Probably the same for Miles. Despite being non-tendered one year ago, the switch-hitting infielder seems to have steadily improved his hold on a part-time/spot starter role. As a result, I expect him to be offered.
Tyler Johnson has now accrued over three years of major league service time, which is why he is eligible for arbitration. The reality is that the reliever has spent most of the time on the disabled list, having pitched only 77 career innings for the Cardinals.
If it ever got down to a hearing, the lefty might have a hard time proving that he deserves a large raise. For that reason and the fact that Johnson still has value to the club, I expect the Cardinals to offer him.
There is one minor complication for Johnson though. Because of his time in the majors, despite having remaining options, he would still have to pass through revocable waivers to be sent to Memphis in 2009. Yet, it is not a serious concern, as for example, both Flores and Brad Thompson passed through that process without incident last season.
Speaking of Thompson, Brad seems stuck in the spot starter/long reliever role but may have stiff competition for his job in 2009, especially if Joel Pineiro loses his rotation spot by way of the club acquiring another starter. Pineiro is already under contract for $7.5 million this coming season. (This scenario also assumes Chris Carpenter and the other returning starters are all healthy coming out of spring training, which is far from assured.)
Still, Thompson has one option year remaining and he has value to the Cardinals in 2009, whether in St. Louis or in Memphis. While Brad has experienced some success in the majors, the lack of a clear role and consistent track record does not put him in a strong position to break the bank in arbitration. For those reasons, I expect Brad to be offered.
What is next?
Based on past experience, I project the Cardinals will come to terms with all seven offered long before any arbitration hearings would be held in February.
Rarely do any cases progress as far as scheduling, let along holding an actual hearing. In fact, the system is well-designed to avoid the potentially-contentious face-to-face debate over a player's perceived value.
When heading toward arbitration, both sides have to declare their proposal for a one-year salary for the player ahead of time. Making these figures visible to both sides assists in furthering negotiations prior to a hearing. The proposed amounts must be exchanged by January 19, with hearings to be scheduled between February 1 and 21.
To put this into context, the Cardinals have not had a single arbitration hearing this decade. Ironically, the last player to get that far was Oliver, back in 1999. He lost.
Looking back one year
Here is a summary of last year's situation with the Cardinals players then in this experience group. This can illustrate how the process should progress. Shown in the table are my predictions of what the Cardinals would do, what they actually did, when arbitration figures were exchanged, when the sides came to terms and the duration of the new deal.
|Miles||Non tender||Non-tender||NA||1/4/08||One yr (FA)|
|Taguchi||Non tender||Release||Sign w/PHI|
Coming in, I had most of them pegged, though the club ended up releasing Taguchi (at his request) before the non-tender date, though he clearly would have been non-tendered anyway. That gave him a head start on seeking new employment, but made the rest of the process irrelevant for him.
Though Miles not being offered last off-season was expected, his return in January as a free agent was clearly not. Ankiel and the Cardinals settled on the same day figures were to be exchanged.
Given his experience level, success and long-term importance to the club, Yadier Molina's four-year deal with an option year was not a surprise to me, despite only a one-year commitment being required at that time.
As a side comment, pitcher Adam Wainwright's coming to terms on a multi-year contract (four plus two option years) 12 months prior to arbitration eligibility was a bit unexpected, but having locked him up this last winter looks to have been a smart move by the Cardinals.
Any long-term deals?
As noted above, I am projecting that none of the current seven (eight minus Flores) seem in line for multi-year contracts this year.
Ludwick seems the most likely candidate, yet with three more seasons until free agency and some questioning whether Ludwick is more than a one-year wonder, I imagine both sides will hold off for now and consider this more seriously in another 12 months. Of course, the Cards could float Ludwick a bargain deal, which could be appealing for a 30-year-old who has likely never even been offered a multi-year contract in the past.
Ankiel might seem a good candidate to try to lock up, but with Scott Boras as his representation, continuing to head toward free agency is far more likely. It would seem the only way the outfielder could get the agent to consider giving up some of his free agent years would be to demand it.
If Ankiel wants to stay in St. Louis as some think, the recent rumors of his availability via trade might actually help. In this scenario, it could spur on the outfielder to push Boras to negotiate an extension now, especially if it would feature some type of no-trade protection. I still consider this to be low odds, but non-zero odds, nonetheless.
Even so, Ankiel would also need the Cardinals to be willing and able, something the organization may want to put on the back burner with a lower-cost, longer-term under-control player nearing his arrival, top prospect Colby Rasmus.
With starters Carpenter, Wainwright and Kyle Lohse already under long-term deals and perhaps trying to sign another starter as a free agent, the Cardinals would seem to be inclined to pass on the idea of giving Wellemeyer more than one year at this time.
Like Ankiel, Miles and new shortstop Khalil Greene, Wellemeyer will be a first-time six-year free agent following the upcoming season, clouding his St. Louis future beyond 2009.
Among the players with under three years service time whose contracts can be renewed by the club as late as mid-March at an amount the organization chooses (within minimum salary guidelines): Brian Barton, Josh Kinney, Joe Mather, Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte, Chris Perez, Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker.
The next batch
Looking ahead one year, the Cardinals should be in a different situation. Instead of eight players, only six players project to be eligible to participate in the arbitration process.
This includes four of the players eligible this year: Duncan, Ludwick, Johnson and Thompson, who would all be back for another round of negotiations. Added to that should be two who would likely become arbitration eligible for the first time next year – Kinney and Schumaker.
As a result, the latter two players likely to be making in the $400,000s this season should see substantial increases starting in 2010, especially if their roles are cemented in place during the 2009 campaign.
On the other side of the coin, those who become expendable might find themselves non-tendered in December, 2009, as could happen to Flores later this week.
In an upcoming article, I will forecast what each of the players heading toward arbitration might request as well as the amounts the Cardinals could offer them.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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