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Cardinals to go to arbitration hearing for Martinez, Wacha

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This marks the first time in a generation that the Cardinals will reach this stage of the salary arbitration process.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After reaching one-year deals with arbitration-eligible players Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Matt Adams before the weekend started, it was widely expected that the St. Louis Cardinals would be able to avoid the arbitration hearing process with starting pitchers Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. However, as first reported by St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold, the Cardinals will go to hearings with the two young hurlers.

This marks the first time since 1999, with fellow starting pitcher Darren Oliver, that the Cardinals have not been able to agree on a one-year deal with an arbitration-eligible player. As Goold words it, this marks “a change in approach for (Cardinals GM John Mozeliak).”

On Friday, Jon Heyman of MLB Network and FanRag Sports reported that Martinez filed for a 2017 salary of $4.25 million, while the Cardinals filed for $3.9 million. Also, again per Heyman, Wacha filed for a 2017 salary of $3.2 million while the Cardinals filed for one of $2.775 million.

Those familiar with player salaries, especially those who have been following the free agent market over the off-season, should note that these salaries, even the higher ones suggested by the players and/or their representation, are well below market value for their services. If they were free agents, a 25 year-old who has been a top 25 pitcher in baseball by FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement since becoming a full-time starter in 2015 would certainly command more than $4.25 million, and the 2013 NLCS MVP who was an All-Star in 2015 would command more than $3.2 million.

However, in the arbitration process, players receive far less compensation than they would under normal free agency—a common rule of thumb is that players in their first season of arbitration, as both Martinez and Wacha are, will receive 40% of their actual worth, though even this may be a stretch, particularly in the case of Martinez.

Regardless, it appears that the Cardinals believe that they can save money by going to an arbitration hearing, at which an independent source will decide upon the player’s 2017 salary. It is, however, interesting that the Cardinals would risk some friction between themselves and two players they believe will be in their 2017 rotation (and beyond)—by design, an arbitration hearing would consist of Cardinals representation explaining the shortcomings of players and justifying why they are not worth as much as the players say they are—over what is, combined, less than $1 million.

It has been rumored throughout the off-season that the Cardinals were considering long-term extensions for some of their cost-controlled young stars, particularly Martinez, and if such an extension were to be worked out, his arbitration hearing would likely be a footnote, and perhaps non-existent if such an extension can be worked out before the hearing actually occurs.