Here, we will focus on those four eligible for compensation if offered arbitration and decline before signing with a new club or sign before December 1. In summary, the Type A players fetch two draft picks, while the Type B generate just one.
Of course, it works the other way around, too. If the Cardinals sign another team's Type A free agent who has been offered arbitration or before December 1, they would forfeit their first-round pick in the June, 2010 draft.
Traditionally, the Cardinals have not been active in free agency with players that cost compensation picks. The last time the club lost a draft slot in this manner was all the way back in 2001/2002. However with major needs to fill and far fewer trade chips than before, this could change.
I will try to clarify as we go where my personal view differs from what I believe the Cardinals will do, as the two are not always the same. Ultimately, the final assessment provided below is the path I think the team will take, as I consider that more relevant to the reader than my own informed opinion.
One other overriding factor to remember is an organizational position stated by GM John Mozeliak on several occasions. The Cardinals do not offer arbitration to players unless they are wanted back. In other words, the club doesn't assume risk just to collect compensation picks.
For years, I have been overly-optimistic in my predictions, only to see the Cardinals take the conservative route. I am finally really to fully pay attention.
From a personal perspective, this year more than any, I wish they would take a bit of a chance as they need to pump up their high-end prospects after the 2009 trades. If they were to sign another club's Type A free agent, their own top pick would be lost, aggravating the problem.
Of course, there are the seven-figure signing bonuses given top picks to consider, too. Bottom line, until the organization alters its course, my projections will clearly take this posture of being very conservative in offering into account.
Now, let's look at each comp-eligible player.
Matt Holliday – Type A
As Cardinals fans know all too well, Holliday was acquired from Oakland on July 24 in return for three prominent prospects, Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. If Holliday can locate greener pastures elsewhere as seems likely to me, the Cardinals would not want to be left with nothing other than about two months of the outfielder's services.
With Holliday the top free agent in the market this winter, I believe that if/when the Cardinals offer arbitration, agent Scott Boras and Holliday will surely decline. A one-year contract decided by an arbitration panel is clearly not their target.
Holliday is such a highly-desired player that most all potential signing teams should be willing to give up their first- or second-round draft pick for him, as the Cards did when dealing away Wallace, their top selection in 2008.
Time is the rub, however. Boras wants a king's ransom for Holliday in a soft market. As such, it could take most of the winter for the outfielder to get signed. If the Cardinals do not believe they are out of the sweepstakes, keeping the Holliday money aside could impact their behavior – both in offering arbitration to other eligible players as well as in taking on salary by acquiring others.
A key question is when the Cardinals decide to move on and fill their roster without Holliday. I do not believe they will make an acceptable offer to Boras early enough to sign him and can only hope they do not wait all winter to find out where Holliday lands.
Prediction: Club offers, player declines, two picks received
Mark DeRosa – Type B
The ex-Cub, still very popular in Chicago, was acquired by St. Louis from Cleveland in a late-June trade for relievers Chris Perez and Jess Todd. Shortly after joining the Cardinals, DeRosa suffered a wrist injury that hampered his hitting and was serious enough to require off-season surgery.
The question with DeRosa, age 35 next season, is whether or not the Cardinals really want him back. They say they do, while at the same time trumpeting David Freese's third base candidacy. Sounds like they are saying publicly what they need to say after giving up so much to get him, while their intentions may be less clear.
DeRosa could be considered a fallback plan to Holliday in left field, yet there is the timing issue noted above. I would be surprised if Holliday signs first, meaning DeRosa could be long gone if the Cardinals wait. In addition, other bats might prove to be a better bargain as a left fielder, with the name Xavier Nady being an interesting one, for example.
My interpretation of the Cardinals actions is that DeRosa is wanted back only if he comes cheaply. Given the great interest being shown in him by other clubs, that seems unlikely.
Further, there is no guarantee that an arbitration hearing would deliver a low salary. If I was preparing DeRosa's case, I would push to get 2009 set aside as a mulligan due to injury and expect a raise based on a strong 2008. The Cardinals may not want to risk going there.
Here is the other side of the coin. I don't think DeRosa would accept the arbitration offer from the Cardinals if made. I imagine the player is instead looking for his last multi-year contract and will get it elsewhere if a comparable deal is not offered by the Cardinals.
If the organization was less risk-averse, DeRosa's extra pick seems to be there for the taking. His status as a Type B free agent only makes DeRosa more appealing to prospective signing clubs since they would not have to forfeit one of their own draft picks in signing him.
DeRosa could help St. Louis in 2010. Even if Freese is awarded third base and a left-fielder (Holliday or other) is signed, DeRosa has played the super sub role in the past and done it well. He would immediately help strengthen a Cardinals bench that was one of the club's few weak links in 2009 and would be ready to step in as an every-day starter if needed.
Bottom line, this is a case where I think the overriding reasons the Cardinals might offer would be for PR purposes after dealing two prospects for DeRosa and to pick up a sure comp pick. Yet because I don't believe the club wants to go to a hearing and because I don't think they really want him back at market price, here is my prediction, likely to be unpopular.
Prediction: No offer, no pick received
Joel Pineiro – Type B
Unlike the two above, Pineiro has not been the recipient of any front office comments about hopes for him to re-sign. In fact, most Cardinals watchers seem to accept the likelihood that he is leaving. Because of his fine 2009 season, I suspect Pineiro has priced himself out of the Cardinals plans.
Based on what Pineiro may earn due to his recent success, the amounts already committed to the rest of the rotation and a greater need to address the offense, I just don't see Pineiro being offered. I seem to recall very similar arguments in favor of offering arbitration to Jeff Weaver following the 2006 World Series, yet it did not happen then either.
If his interest to return is at a high level, John Smoltz would certainly put the final nail in Pineiro's Cardinals coffin. The future Hall of Famer would likely join a farm-system product in filling the back two spots in the 2010 Cardinals rotation. If another vet was brought in, he would be a lower-tier player to compete with Smoltz. Think Matt Clement without the shoulder problem.
Prediction: No offer, no pick received
Troy Glaus – Type B
Even more so than DeRosa, the third baseman ranks as a Type B due to his 2008 season. While the oft-injured Glaus may have some fuel remaining in the tank, there is no chance the Cardinals would want to pay anywhere near what he might command via arbitration.
He is as good as gone.
Prediction: No offer, no pick received
No compensation players
Certainly Khalil Greene and Todd Wellemeyer have played their final games with the Cardinals and I wouldn't give Rick Ankiel more than five percent chance of returning, either. I expect Jason LaRue to re-sign and as noted above, Smoltz should receive a competitive, but incentive-laden offer to come back, too.
The score - Two picks received, three potential picks passed up
If the Cardinals settle for this level of compensation, it would come nowhere near approximating the five picks given up in the trades for Holliday and DeRosa. All five came from the top two rounds of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 drafts, not to mention the 14 player-years of professional development lost in the five prospects dealt.
The last time the Cardinals had four compensatory picks in the first two rounds was in the watershed draft of 2005. While that draft was highly successful overall, their early comp picks yielded Colby Rasmus and plus three others that did not pan out. The organization had three comp selections in 2006, two in 2007, one in 2008 and none this past June.
These extra picks do not come without a price, a rough average of $1 million each in signing bonuses. That is one reason accumulating an unlimited number of compensatory picks is not a practical strategy. In addition, MLB rules prohibit trading draft picks as well as drafted players during their first season as professionals.
The bottom line is that I predict the Cardinals will go into the 2010 draft with two compensatory picks, a supplemental first-rounder and either a first or second round pick from the team that signs Holliday.
For more details on extra selections in recent Cardinals drafts, refer to this article from The Cardinal Nation blog, "Checking Cardinals early draft pick return".
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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