Under the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governing Major League Baseball labor relations, the morning after the final out of the World Series, the contracts between players and the clubs who employ them expire. Those ballplayers who have accrued six or more years of MLB service time become free agents, but they aren't yet able to negotiate the terms of contracts for 2015 and beyond or sign with any team they want. That's because the CBA imposes a five-day "quiet period" following the end of the World Series.
During the quiet period, a player may only sign with the team that last employed him. This is also the time period during which a club may tender a qualifying offer for a one-year contract at a salary the equivalent to the average salary of MLB's top 125 salaried players. (Last year, it was $14.1 million; the 2015 figure is $15.3 million.) Clubs have until 4:00 p.m. CT on the final day of the quiet period to make a qualifying offer to a free agent. If a club extends a free agent a qualifying offer, that player has seven days within which to accept the offer. If he declines the offer (an act that can take the form of signing with another club during the seven-day window for acceptance), his former team will be compensated with a supplemental draft pick between the first and second rounds.
Qualifying offers aren't the only activity during the post-World Series quiet period, though. A player (typically through his agent) may discuss a variety of subjects with the management of other clubs. While they can't sign a contract during the quiet period, players and clubs may discuss the parties' interest in the player playing for the club, how the club plans to use the player (e.g., as a reliever or starter), the advantages of playing for the club (organizational and community), length of contract, whether a no-trade clause might be included in any eventual deal, and guaranteed salary. This is the time of year when clubs and agents send out feelers in order to get an idea of the market.
The following St. Louis Cardinals became free agents Thursday morning:
- Pat Neshek
- Jason Motte
- Justin Masterson
- Mark Ellis
- A.J. Pierzynski
Per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, none of these players will receive a qualifying offer (so the Cards won't be receiving a compensatory draft pick for next June's Rule 4 amateur draft) and it sounds unlikely that general manager John Mozeliak and the St. Louis front office will be doing much negotiating with any of their free agents:
The Cardinals won't make any qualifying offers, and it's likely that they won't retain any of those five free agents. Ellis and Pierzynski are nearing -- or perhaps at? -- the end of their careers. The non-waiver Trade Deadline deal that brought in Masterson proved to be a bust for the Cardinals. Motte, a lifetime Cardinal, is at a crossroads after struggling in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. And Neshek, with a stupendous season, likely priced himself out of the Cardinals' bullpen plans.
While information on the pro-rated salaries of Pierzynski and Masterson is difficult to come by, we can estimate how much payroll the Cardinals will shed by allowing these five veterans to walk via free agency or retirement. And that total is about $17 million.
Departing free agents are not the only avenue by which the Cards will shed payroll between 2014 and 2015. Ty Wigginton's $2.5 million contract has finally expired, so the Redbirds will no longer be paying him not to play baseball. And the club announced that it has exercised its $500,000 option for John Lackey's services next season, which works out to a drop of about $4.8 million from the righty's 2014 pro-rated salary with St. Louis (assuming the two parties don't work out some sort of contract extension that might raise veteran's potential 2015 salary).
The stove is warming up.