Cards face interesting calls Monday
Decisions whether to offer arbitration big part of free agency
Baseball's Hot Stove season is about to get a lot more interesting. The Cardinals, along with the other 29 Major League teams, are about to lay some of their cards on the table.
As of Monday at 11 p.m. CT, clubs must choose whether or not to offer arbitration to their own free agents. Once that time passes, the 30 teams will all know what the cost will be in Draft picks for signing other clubs' free agents.
If a team offers arbitration to a player, the player then has until next Sunday to accept or reject the offer. A player who accepts arbitration is considered to be signed for 2009, with only the terms to be determined. A player who rejects arbitration may still sign with any team. Unlike in years past, rejecting an arbitration offer no longer prevents a player from re-signing with his team.
Moreover, for players rated as Type-A or Type-B in the ratings published by the Elias Sports Bureau, an arbitration offer guarantees that his 2008 team will receive compensation in the form of at least one Draft pick if the player signs elsewhere. The Cardinals have three such players. Russ Springer is a Type-A free agent, while Jason Isringhausen and Braden Looper are Type-Bs.
A team losing a Type-A free agent receives two Draft picks in 2009, while the compensation for a Type-B is one free agent. Teams signing a Type-A free agent actually lose one pick, while the second pick comes in a supplemental round. Teams signing Type-B free agents do not lose a pick.
This, of course, affects the team not only in its dealings with its own free agents, but in negotiating with players from other teams. A specific example of interest to St. Louis and its fans is Edgar Renteria, who is unlikely to receive an arbitration offer from the Tigers. If another team were to sign Renteria before the Monday deadline, it would forfeit the compensation. If the deadline passes with no offer from Detroit, he can be signed with no compensation. Thus, once teams know what they're dealing with, negotiations with many free agents may heat up.
As for the in-house options, Isringhausen may be the easiest call, based on his struggles in 2008 as well as his '08 salary. He battled injuries and ineffectiveness in 2008, and he made $8 million. Among the factors an arbitrator considers in a hearing are performance, service time and past salaries. Thus, if the Cardinals were to offer arbitration to Isringhausen, he would only need to accept in order to be very likely to receive a significant guaranteed salary for 2009. It is difficult to envision the club offering him arbitration even if it has interest in bringing him back on an incentive-based deal.
Looper, meanwhile, would appear to be an easy decision in the other direction. Looper is coming off consecutive solid seasons as a starting pitcher. If the Cardinals offer him arbitration, their only exposure would be the risk of being locked into a one-year deal with a durable and dependable starter.
Given the market dynamics, Looper can likely receive multiple years somewhere, so it would probably not be in his best interest to accept arbitration.
And then there's Springer, probably the hardest decision. His Type-A status means that the Cards would receive two picks for his departure, definitely a temptation. On the other hand, a team with a limited budget and several outstanding needs might hesitate to be locked into even a $3.5 million contract (which is what Springer made in 2008) for a right-handed reliever.
Springer has expressed an interest in returning to St. Louis, so it would be easy to see him accepting arbitration. Despite the high value of two Draft picks, the Cardinals might very well choose not to offer arbitration to the veteran right-hander.
Five of St. Louis' eight remaining unsigned free agents do not carry any Draft-pick compensation because they are not rated Type-A or Type-B free agents. Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, Ron Villone, Juan Encarnacion and Mark Mulder are all unlikely to be offered arbitration by the Cardinals, simply because there is no incentive for the team to do so.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.