In a relative manner of speaking, Major League Baseball is filled with princes and paupers. Players with more than six years of service time are eligible for free agency and they take the largest chunk of the pie when it comes to player salaries. On the lower end of the salary scale, MLB has the younger set, the players with less than three years of service time. These players have their salaries unilaterally decided by their team, usually at or near the major league minimum currently around half a million dollars. There is a smaller midsection of players with at least three years of service time, but no more than six who have their salaries decided by the arbitration process.
The Cardinals have six players who finished this past season with between three and six years of service time in the majors, and are thus eligible for arbitration: Brandon Moss, Steve Cishek, Trevor Rosenthal, Peter Bourjos, Tony Cruz, and Matt Adams. Lance Lynn, Jon Jay, Jordan Walden, and Matt Carpenter would all have been eligible for arbitration if not for the contracts they signed that already cover next season. This year, the Cardinals actually have a seventh player eligible for arbitration due to super-two eligibilty: Seth Maness.
Under the terms of the CBA between MLB and Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the top 22% of players between two and three years of service time are eligible for arbitration on year early. This does not accelerate their path to free agency in any way, but they are eligible for arbitration four times instead of three and avoid one year of the major league minimum salary. Seth Maness finished the season with two years and 154 days of service time in the majors (commonly seen as 2.154 with the decimal point serving as a break and not an extension of a number with decimals). The cutoff varies from year to year, but this season the cutoff was 2.130 so Maness made it easily. Kevin Siegrist was the next closest at 2.116 with Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Kolten Wong not really close to the mark, per Cots Contracts. (For a list of all Super-two players this year, click here.)
Just because a player is eligible for arbitration, that does not make their pay automatically guaranteed. The team has to offer (tender) a contract to the player, agreeing to be bound by arbitration should another agreement not be made. If the team does not offer the player a contract, then no money is guaranteed to the player and he becomes a free agent. This season, the deadline to offer a player a contract is December 2nd.
Much of the decision on whether to offer a player a contract is based on the expected salary of that player. While we cannot know for sure how much a player will make in arbitration—the player and team set forth figures and the arbitrator chooses one if the teams have not agreed on their own—MLB Trade Rumors estimates how much each player will receive. For the Cardinals, the site has made the following estimates:
|Service Time||Salary Estimate|
|Brandon Moss||5.160||$7.9 M|
|Peter Bourjos||5.062||$1.8 M|
|Steve Cishek||4.143||$7.1 M|
|Tony Cruz||4.105||$1.0 M|
|Trevor Rosenthal||3.058||$6.5 M|
|Matt Adams||3.053||$1.5 M|
|Seth Maness||2.154||$1.2 M|
Players salaries generally move up as they accrue more service time. Rough estimates have been thrown around with 40% of market salary in the first year of arbitration, followed by 60% and then 80% in the final year of arbitration. These estimates serve as a general guide on how players will be paid. If the numbers for Steve Cishek and Trevor Rosenthal jump out, that is because closers tend to get paid very well in arbitration. Rosenthal has been the closer for the Cardinals for three seasons now, and Steve Cishek has closing experience as well and received $6.65 million last season in arbitration.
Cishek's salary is high enough that the Cardinals could choose to make Cishek a free agent by non-tendering him thereby giving up the right to his services in 2016, but also losing the obligation to pay him roughly $7 million next year. Cishek is the Cardinals most likely candidate to be non-tendered, but they do have decisions with a couple other players.
Derrick Goold wrote in his last chat the team was shopping Peter Bourjos around, not a surprising development given Bourjos' usage and comments from John Mozeliak about him after the season indicating they would "look at what our opportunities look like over the next six weeks or so." Goold also indicated teams might be waiting around to see if bourjos was non-tendered which could be slowing down a potential trade. Given the low cost of keeping Bourjos, it would make sense for the Cardinals to tender Bourjos a contract and then find a potential trade partner if they do not view him as part of the 2016 club.
Brandon Moss is also owed a relatively high salary next season and his role with the team is not quite clear. Moss is a left-handed power hitter who can play the outfield and first base. Goold, in the chat linked above, noted that nearly eight-million dollars is a lot to pay a bench player, but this early in the offseason, Moss serves as an insurance policy should other options fall through. Moss will be one more year removed from hip surgery that prevented a return from normal strength last year. He is also a year older and provides the type of power lacking in baseball and especially on the Cardinals roster. Given their current situation, it would be a surprise to see Moss non-tendered.
The decisions on Rosenthal, Maness, and Adams are easy ones. Their salaries are either low (Maness, Adams) or they are a very important part of next year's team (Rosenthal). Tony Cruz's salary is also low, and the organization has kept with him as Yadier Molina's back up for years now. Unless the Cardinals make a surprising backup catcher sign in the next week, expect Cruz to be tendered a contract for next season. The Cardinals, as well as the rest of baseball, have been pretty quiet so far this offseason, but expect things to pick up in the next few weeks.