During a recent UCB interview, when asked which Cardinals would be offered arbitration, Matt Leach (mlb.com) replied he thought only Matt Holliday would get an offer. Here’s the quote (question starts at 17:25 on the recording):
“I think that this front office has shown that it has a real hesitation to offer arbitration to anybody who even might accept that they might be worried about having to pay the salary. I think that they have pretty consistently shown that. Each of the past two years I have been surprised at some of the decisions, and I have yet to be surprised with them offering to somebody. If I had to guess I would guess that there’s a pretty good chance that Holliday is the only guy they offer to. They’ve just shown themselves to be very risk adverse when it comes to the possibility of somebody accepting arbitration.
Now if the negotations start going somewhere that kinda leads you to believe things are different, that’s one thing – but also remember that under the new CBA [collective bargaining agreement] that not offering arbitration is not the sort of ‘death knell’ in negotiations that it once was. So to some extent, not offering is no longer the risk that it was. Again, this is one area where I actually disagree with them – I think that you should be willing to take those risks. I think the draft picks are so valuable. But I think they have shown themselves to be very, very risk adverse when it comes to the possibility of players accepting arbitration.”
Apparently the Cardinal Front Office has reconsidered their position and decided to accept the risk, because today they offered arbitration to Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and Joel Pineiro. According to about.com’s baseball page, that’s all the Type A/B free agents the Cardinals had this season.
What are the implications? Baseball’s arbitration rules are summarized here. Bottom line is Holliday, DeRosa, and Pineiro have until midnight EST on 7 December to accept/reject arbitration. If they accept, they go back on the Cardinals 40-man roster even though they do not have a contract in place yet, and negotiations for compensation continue. If they reject they return to the free agent pool. The Cardinals will get a compensation pick (or two in the case of Holliday, a Type A free agent) when/if they sign with someone else.
My take on the why.
Prospect Replacement. The Cardinals traded away a large chunk of their high value prospects to acquire DeRosa and Holliday. If in the worst-case all 3 reject arbitration, the Cardinals would receive 4 compensation picks. They traded away 5 in 2009 (Perez, Todd, Wallace, Mortensen, Peterson), so those 4 picks would go a long way to evening the scales in the minors. Granted, picking up raw talent to replace MLB-ready guys like Perez/Todd/Wallace isn’t a fair swap or comparison, but at least there will be some return on the DeRosa/Holliday investment.
Third Base Situation. At the start of the off season there was a lot written about David Freese getting a real shot to play third next season, and although no one in the Cardinal organization anointed him the starting third baseman in 2010, it ‘seemed’ to be the case. Freese may not be ready. Bringing DeRosa back would allow him to develop a little further in the minors, and perhaps hold down a bench position on the major league club while learning. Call it risk mitigation going forward for the big club. Not a bad move.
Who Wouldn’t Want These Guys On The Roster? Holliday is a bona-fide power hitter giving the Cardinals additional thump in the lineup. DeRosa should – will – hit much better in 2010 when fully healthy than he did the second half of 2009 with a bum wrist. And Pineiro thrived last year under Duncan, using his sinkers to force hitters into pounding the ball into the dirt (Career year concerns do exist for Pineiro, but his ground ball dominance continued a trend he’s had for a couple of years, and is a repeatable skill in my opinion).
Prognosis. Holliday is due for a big payday this off-season if he stays a free agent. I would expect Holliday to reject arbitration. Pineiro already expressed interest in returning to the Club for 2010 and beyond. I think Pineiro accepts as well. DeRosa, with the bum wrist, isn’t as desirable this off-season as he was last. The Cubs may make a real run at him; if they’ve already been in contact with DeRosa, and have a tantalizing offer on the table, he’ll probably reject arbitration. Absent that I would expect DeRosa also returns.