First, I must tee up a bit of background. There are two groups of players eligible for the arbitration process – those with from just under three to six years of service but not yet eligible for free agency and those veterans who opted to accept their club's offer of arbitration rather than test the free agent market.
The Cardinals have two players in the former population, second baseman Skip Schumaker and outfielder Ryan Ludwick. In the latter group, none of the players offered arbitration by St. Louis accepted, so they became free agents. They are Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa and Joel Pineiro.
The process has several steps
First the eligible players must file. While you may read a lot of hoopla about this filing period, it is nothing more than a formality. All players not already under contract who have the right to arbitration will certainly file, since in not doing so, they would foolishly give up their arbitration right. (Of course, they could agree to terms on a new contract at any time, which would take them out of this process.)
Next, on January 19, the two parties exchange figures on what they believe the player's value during the upcoming season should be. This is most important as it establishes the upper (player's view) and lower (team view) boundaries of what the player is perceived to be worth in the current market.
A February hearing is then scheduled to be held between the 1st and 21st. If the sides cannot come to agreement during the interim, an arbitration panel will decide either the club's or the player's submitted amount for a one-year contract.
Last year, the Cardinals had five players eligible, Ludwick, Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer. Since then, the latter four have departed, leaving only Ludwick, now joined by the first-time eligible Schumaker.
There is a reasonable possibility that one or both of the current players may come to terms before the 19th. Last winter, Duncan, Thompson and Wellemeyer all agreed to their respective 2009 contracts between the filing date and the deadline for numbers to be exchanged.
On the other hand, Ludwick and Ankiel's agents dickered with the club for weeks, finally coming to agreement literally hours before their scheduled hearings. Of course, general manager John Mozeliak and team weren't consumed by the lengthy Matt Holliday negotiations 12 months ago, either.
The last time the Cardinals actually had an arbitration hearing with one of their players was in 1999.
For reference, following is a summary of the Cardinals 2009 cases. From left to right, the players' 2008 salaries, the two filings, the midpoint, the final amount agreed upon for 2009 and the percentage raise received. As you can see, there are no losers among the players. It is only a matter of the size of the win.
|$M||2008 sal||Plyr file||Club file||Midpt||2009 act||Incr %|
2010 prediction process
For both Ludwick and Schumaker, I will compare their 2009 statistics to players at the same position who had roughly the same service time one year ago, using their 2008 statistics. So I use the latter's 2008 stats and 2009 salaries to help estimate what the comparable Cardinals' players 2010 salaries might be.
Remember that I am estimating where I think the two sides might settle, roughly near the mid-point, with the club's filing potentially lower and the player's desired amount likely higher.
To be considered a valid comparison, players can be within one service time year away. Where service time is noted, it is listed in "years.days", where 172 days equals one full season.
Ryan Ludwick - $4.1 million estimate
I am most amused when I read that some watchers think Ludwick will have to be traded because he will make $7 million or more via arbitration. That appears to be unrealistic as the data below will illustrate.
As the above table indicates, I located four outfielders with comparable service time one year ago to Ludwick today. Their 2008 stats line up nicely with Ludwick's from last season. All four of the comparable outfielders had higher averages, on-base percentages and slugging percentages than Ludwick. I also included OPS+, though I highly doubt it is actually used in the arbitration process. Again, Ludwick ranks last among this group.
Jason Kubel of the Twins seems closest to Ludwick in the slash stats. He scored more often but drove in fewer runs. Xavier Nady, then of the Yankees, was closest in terms of home runs and RBI, but it took him more at-bats to do it. Nady's slash stats were considerably higher. Jayson Werth of the Phillies added stolen bases to compensate for fewer RBI while Marlon Byrd, then of Texas, produced fewer home runs and RBI, but more runs and stolen bases.
Now, let's look at the 2009 salaries of the four comps. If the club and player submitted amounts, they are listed. Next is the final salary along with any multi-year deals agreed-to.
What we can see is that while Kubel's and Werth's 2009 salaries appear low, they actually signed two-year deals with a much lower amount the first year. Werth signed his before exchanging figures, Kubel after. On the far right, I added the average annual value of the two deals as a more valid comparison point.
I would throw out the very low (Byrd) and focus on Kubel and Werth to start. Again, remembering that all players' OPS+ are superior to Ludwick, I would aim to the low side, as Kubel's stats are closest to Ludwick's, settling at $3.6 million for Ludwick. That is right on Kubel's AAV, and well below Werth's $5M AAV. Remember that Kubel is in the same service time year as Ludwick, while Werth is a year ahead. My estimate even might feel a bit generous as Kubel's own submission last year was just $3.4 million.
Then we have Nady, a real outlier as the recipient of a fat $6.550 million contract from the Yankees, given before the two sides ever even exchanged figures. Ludwick could argue better production from fewer at-bats, though Nady's slash stats and OPS+ are far better.
Now, here's another problem. Go back to the very first table in this article and note that Ludwick made $3.7 million last season. No way will he take a salary decrease coming off a good season. Given that and Nady's overly-high comp, I feel I would need to bump Ludwick up at least 10 percent to $4.1 million even though three of the four comps don't seem to support it. I suspect Ludwick will file substantially higher, but the club might win a hearing on a number in the low-mid $4 millions.
No matter how you cut it, I cannot see Ludwick anywhere near the $7 million range.
Skip Schumaker - $2.8 million estimate
Here we have another excellent group of comps, all second basemen and all were within the same service time group last year where Skip falls this year.
In terms of OPS+, Colorado's Clint Barmes and Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks are closest, though Barmes was a part-time player. Weeks has more speed and power though a considerably poorer batting average and lower OBP. Florida's Dan Uggla is in an offensive class by himself while Kelly Johnson, then of Atlanta, tripled Skip's home runs and doubled his RBI output.
Here are the 2009 salaries. All players settled on one-year deals after three of the four submitted amounts for arbitration. Uggla and Weeks both went to hearings and won.
This one seems much easier to peg compared to Ludwick. Uggla is far superior to the others and as I noted above, Barmes isn't a full-timer. That leaves Weeks and Johnson, each at about $2.8 million. I can't see anything in the numbers that would support putting Skip's 2010 salary above them, even a year later.
There you have it. Based on comps that follow the actual arbitration process, I estimate it will take the Cardinals a total of about $6.9 million to get Ludwick and Schumaker under contract for 2010. We will see how close I come to the actual amounts in the upcoming days and weeks.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch his daily commentary at TheCardinalNationBlog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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