The Cards' Other Arbitration-Eligible Players

So Taguchi: From ring to non-tender?

The St. Louis Cardinals will soon need to offer contracts to five players with from three to six years of Major League experience or non-tender them. If they receive an offer, these players still have the right to take the team to arbitration if they so choose.

In the recent article, "Cardinals and Arbitration: To Offer or Not?", we reviewed the factors surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals' then-pending decision whether or not to offer arbitration to free agent shortstop David Eckstein. Friday's signing of Cesar Izturis pretty much eliminated any suspense that had built up on that front. Eckstein was not offered and will pursue his career elsewhere.

The Cardinals will pick up one sandwich pick due to the signing of former Type "B" free agent reliever Troy Percival by the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. Because this signing occurred prior to the arbitration offer date, the Cardinals will receive an extra pick just as if they had already offered arbitration and the player declined. This is the only extra pick the Cardinals will have in the 2008 draft.

In addition to Eckstein and Percival, there are five other Cardinals players who may become eligible for arbitration this off-season. These are players that have accrued between three and six years of Major League service time, so are not yet eligible for free agency. The Cardinals control their rights for at least next season, but if the two sides cannot agree on a contract amount for 2008, the player has the right to take the club to arbitration. Another option is for the team to let the player go.

Five players included
These players include pitcher Todd Wellemeyer, catcher Yadier Molina, infielder Aaron Miles (pictured) along with outfielders Rick Ankiel and So Taguchi. Miles and Taguchi are judged by me to be the most at risk among this group in terms of potentially being dropped by the Cardinals. As an aside, due to major league service time, reliever Randy Flores would also be among this group of eligibles except for the fact that he signed a two-year contract last spring which covers 2008.

If the Cardinals do not offer any one of the five a contract by December 12, the player will be become a "non-tendered" free agent and will be free to seek employment anywhere in baseball. That includes potentially coming back to St. Louis.

Expect the Cardinals to strongly consider following this route this month. When asked for his view about non-tendering players, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak didn't hesitate before telling me this, "I am a firm believer in that market; in that right."

Do not expect any of these players to be released prior to the 12th however, as that would preclude the club from re-signing the released player until May 15 of next season or later. The Cardinals would seem to have no reason to want to limit their flexibility in that manner, since if non-tendered instead, the player and club could negotiate immediately.

The only reason the Cardinals would release one of these players between now and the 12th would be if they knew for sure they did not want the player back next season.

Non-tender for So coming?
Taguchi is one player with whom the Cardinals may decide to go the non-tender approach, even if they want him to return to try to make the 2008 team. The club has already spent $100,000 to buy out their $1.1 million option on the veteran outfielder's services for next season from his previous contract.

By taking the subsequent step of non-tendering him on the 12th, the Cardinals can avoid the restriction of having to offer the player at least 80% of his 2007 salary of $1.025 million. Once he would become a free agent, the Cardinals and Taguchi could effectively "start over" on his salary, setting it at wherever level both parties feel appropriate.

Yet in both Taguchi's and Miles' cases, the greater concern is more likely the 40-man roster spot taken than it is the money required to pay the player next season. There are younger players already on the roster who play the same positions and may possess more career upside – and yes, cost less, too.

I expect the Cardinals will offer and come to terms with the other three players (Wellemeyer, Molina and Ankiel) before any arbitration hearings would be held in February.

Contract looking up for Ankiel?
Yet, given Ankiel's representation by Scott Boras, perhaps nothing should be assumed. The optimist would note that the player has maintained a long-standing and unique relationship with the club as he recovered from mental struggles and physical injuries that led to a major position change which is now nearly complete. So, perhaps the two sides will come together smoothly on a 2008 contract for Ankiel.

Rarely do any cases go as far as an actual hearing. In fact, the system is designed well to avoid the potentially-contentious debate over a player's perceived value. When heading toward arbitration, both sides have to declare their amount ahead of time, easing negotiations prior to a hearing. Those amounts must be exchanged by January 18, 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.

Multi-years for Yadi?
First-time arbitration-eligible player Molina could prove to be the most time-consuming situation of the bunch. The Cardinals may try to lock up his rights now for some or all of his three arbitration-eligible seasons under the very reasonable assumption that his price will only go up each year. The earliest Molina can become a free agent for the first time will be following the 2010 season.

The next batch
The following are among the players whose contracts can be renewed by the club as late as March 11 at an amount the organization chooses (within minimum salary guidelines): Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Brendan Ryan, Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick and Skip Schumaker.

As folks look ahead one year, counting the money that will come available as the Cardinals clear some big contracts off their books following the 2008 season, it is important to remember that a number of the younger players on the roster will be eligible to get more money a year from now, chewing up some of that potential savings.

The Cardinals had better plan to put aside funds for some fairly significant raises for the 2009 season, as five of those players mentioned just above - Duncan, Ludwick, Wainwright, Johnson and Thompson - should be among those who will become arbitration eligible for the first time next year, joining Molina and the others who may be back for another round of negotiations.

As a result, these players who were making around $400,000 before will see substantial increases starting in 2009, especially if their roles expand during the 2008 campaign. On the other side of the coin, those who become expendable may find themselves non-tendered on December 12, 2008, as could happen to Taguchi and/or Miles in just ten days from now.



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

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