It is again the time of the year for free agent baseball players to potentially receive their full freedom. This cannot yet happen, though - if their former team wants them to return or at least wants to receive compensation for losing them.
By midnight on December 1, clubs must declare their intent as to whether or not they make an offer of arbitration to their free agents. If the offer is accepted by the player, the two are committed to each other for next season. If they cannot agree on a contract, an arbitrator could be asked in February to decide among two predetermined amounts for a one-year contract for the player to return.
Clubs may take this route of offering arbitration even if they have little or no interest in the player coming back. The reason for this is to secure compensation for the loss of the player. Unless arbitration is offered and declined by the player, the former club receives no compensation if the player goes elsewhere.
Following are the rules for compensation, based on the classification of the player. These rankings of A, B or no compensation are developed by the Elias Sports Bureau for MLB based on the comparative two-year performance of the players.
||First-round pick from the signing club
or (if in first half of draft) a second-round pick from the signing club
instead plus a sandwich pick at end of first round|
||Sandwich pick only (between first and second
Here are the eight St. Louis Cardinals veteran free agents, ordered by their Elias classification.
Next, let’s look into each.
Russ Springer, Type A – not offered. The 40-year-old reliever wants to play another year and has expressed a preference to return to the club in 2009. Yet the Cardinals already seem to have a full compliment of non-closer right-handed relievers without him.
Couple that with the likelihood that Springer could fetch a decent raise next season over his 2008 salary of $3.5 million means the Cardinals probably did not want to take the risk of offering arbitration to Springer. Despite the potential loss of two draft picks, the overriding concern is that Springer might accept.
This really opens up the market for Springer, as potential signing teams now know they can pursue him without fear of draft picks lost.
Jason Isringhausen, Type B – not offered. The story of the rapid fall from grace of the Cardinals career saves leader has been well documented. Though the Cards may be looking for a veteran with closing experience, again the considerable risk of getting stuck in arbitration paying more than they would like for Izzy explains why no offer was made.
It should be noted however that both of these players remain eligible to re-sign with the Cardinals. All that has been lost is the compensation the Cards would have received had the players signed elsewhere.
Braden Looper, Type B – not offered. The former closer turned steady starter lost his first opportunity to perhaps return to St. Louis when his peer Kyle Lohse snagged a four-year contract just as the season ended.
With the uncertainty of Chris Carpenter’s medical situation, the club would be wise to grab another experienced starter before spring training. Yet, the Cardinals’ lack of an arbitration offer signals that the club is worried about what it might take to pay Looper.
Still, unless Looper thinks he cannot score a multi-year offer elsewhere, he should have had no motivation to restrict his negotiation leverage by committing to the Cardinals only.
In other words, I think the Cards were overly cautious here. Hopefully, later in the off-season, they won't end up paying as much or more for a lesser talent.
All five “NC” players – not offered. The Cardinals have absolutely no reason to offer arbitration to any of these players. If the two sides wanted to try to work out a deal, they could, but the club would not want to risk getting tied to an arbitration decision as the route to get there.
Of the names on this part of the list, perhaps only Cesar Izturis and Felipe Lopez have a decent chance of getting a respectable multi-year offer elsewhere and that is far from assured.
One year ago, the signing of shortstop Izturis in late November sealed the St. Louis future of 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein. Eckstein was not offered arbitration, meaning the Cardinals waived their right for compensation when he eventually signed with Toronto. Six others, mostly role players such as Gary Bennett and Miguel Cairo, were also not offered.
The Cardinals did pick up one sandwich pick when reliever Troy Percival, a Type B free agent like Eckstein, signed with the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the arbitration offer date. As such, the Cardinals did not even have to make a decision. They were awarded the extra pick just as if they had already offered and Percival declined.
This was the only extra pick the Cardinals had in the 2008 draft, which they used in June to select pitcher Lance Lynn of Ole Miss.
Two years ago, the Cards received a pair of draft picks when Milwaukee signed pitcher Jeff Suppan, but they did not make offers to Jason Marquis, Jeff Weaver, Preston Wilson and Ronnie Belliard. Those picks became pitchers Clayton Mortensen and David Kopp.
The next batch
The next key off-season deadline is coming in 11 days. Eight Cardinals major leaguers that have accrued from just short of three years up to six years of Major League service time are not yet eligible for free agency. They do have some leverage, however.
The Cardinals control their rights for at least next season if the club offers arbitration by December 12, 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, or non-tender him. This is the route the Cardinals have used in recent years on players like So Taguchi and Aaron Miles.
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.
These eight are as follows:
In an upcoming article, I will project what may happen to these eight. Repeaters from last season are Wellemeyer, Miles and Ankiel. All three signed prior to arbitration, however. So did arbitration-eligible catcher Yadier Molina and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, each of whom inked long-term deals several years prior to being eligible for free agency.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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