At 11:00 p.m. central time on Monday, baseball's arbitration deadline passed. And one of the most puzzling storylines of the off-season began.
The Cardinals declined to offer arbitration to any of their eligible
free agents. Most notable of these were Russ Springer
, and the big one, Braden Looper
I can understand the
first two, at least a little bit. Springer is somewhat surprising to
me, as I thought the Cards would want Russ around for another round.
Manager Tony La Russa values that veteran hand in the bullpen, and
Springer has been rock-solid the past two seasons. I certainly thought
the Cards would put in the arbitration offer, and then just sign
Springer to a one-year deal before the thing actually got to the point
of having a hearing. If another team just had to have Russ Springer so
badly they were willing to knock his socks off with an un-turn-downable
deal, the Cardinals could have just taken the draft pick and walked
Izzy I'm not real surprised on. As public as Isringhausen has been in
the past about wanting to play in St. Louis, going so far as to state
he would use his no-trade clause to block any potential deal, I think
the chances were awfully high that Izzy would have just accepted
arbitration. Seeing as how arbitration relies heavily on service time
and comparable players to determine salary, while placing much less
value on actual player performance
than you would hope, Isringhausen
probably would have ended up with a salary that in non way reflected
his actual value to the team. If the Cardinals didn't want Jason
Isringhausen back at right around the same pay scale as this season,
arbitration probably wasn't an option.
But Looper really, really puzzles me. Looper was classified as a Type B
free agent, meaning that if the Cardinals had offered arbitration,
Looper had declined it, and another team then signed Braden to a multi-year deal (which I have to believe someone will), the Cardinals would
have received a supplemental first round pick in the 2009 draft. How
much is a supplemental pick worth? Well, Chris Perez was taken in the
supplemental round in '06. Clayton Mortensen, the sinkerballer who made
it to Triple A in his first full pro season, was a supplemental pick in
2007. Even if neither one of those players ever turns out to be much
more than roster filler for a couple of years, cheap roster filler is
still cheap roster filler.
Paying a fifth starter or a setup reliever
league minimum is far more palatable than having to go out on the
market and give Joel Pineiro $13 million. If either player turns into
something better than roster filler, then the value of that draft pick
By not offering Looper arbitration, though, the Cardinals lost out on
any chance at that sort of a draft pick. And why? Well, to be honest,
I'm at sort of a loss here to explain it.
You look at the rotation for
next year, and it isn't exactly an inspiring sight. I'm not counting on
anything out of Chris Carpenter (and if the Cardinals have any sort of
brains they won't either), so the rotation looks something like this:
Mitchell Boggs/ Brad Thompson/ Random Non-Roster Free Agent Guy/ Spring Surprise/ Homeless Man
I don't know about you, but I don't find that group all that
reassuring. Don't get me wrong; I think that homeless guy who lives
outside the stadium just may have finally put it all together over the
off-season, but he still has some issues, notably a lack of an out
pitch, command of his fastball, and bladder control.
The worst thing that could have happened, I suppose, if you offer
Looper arbitration, is that he accepts, and slides right in there at
the bottom of the rotation. See, I really like Mitchell Boggs long
term, but I'm not all that high on relying on him to be a contributing
member of the rotation in 2009.
Hey, if Carpenter is healthy enough to
pitch, and Looper accepts arby, then Mr. Pineiro is suddenly no longer
a necessary part of the Cards' plans in '09. And to me, that's damn
near a Christmas miracle.
So why, exactly, would the Cardinals not offer arbitration to Looper?
I'm certain someone would have offered him at least a two or three year
deal, and I'm almost as sure that he probably would have taken it. Can
it possibly be that the Cardinals are really that concerned about the
payroll that Braden Looper would have tied up that they felt they
couldn't risk him coming back, no matter the percentages, nor the
You know, I always, always, always preach financial responsibility when
I discuss the Cardinals. This is a mid-market team, and they simply
can't afford to spend like the big boys (and I mean the really big
boys, like the Sawx, Yankees, Cubs, those sorts of teams), without
crippling the team long term.
I've been a huge proponent of the new
build-from-the-farm system paradigm, because I've felt it's really the
only way to efficiently construct a winning baseball team in MLB these
days. I preach to anyone who will listen the need to find cost-effective solutions to the team's needs so you can afford to pay the
Alberts of the world.
But if the Cardinals were really so worried about
Braden Looper's potential payday that they couldn't risk paying him for
the extra draft pick, then I'm done defending. The hole out beyond the
outfield wall certainly isn't getting any money poured into it; they
should at least put some cash in the product itself.
Maybe I'm wrong, and GM John Mozeliak has got something great up his sleeve
that he's waiting to pull out. Maybe he simply couldn't afford to take
the risk of having yet another roster spot tied up, and a rotation slot
at that, with Braden Looper. Maybe the Cards have found a way to pick
up a real solution for the rotation, maybe someone young, and cost
controlled, with some real upside. But somehow, I'm just not feeling
I don't think the Cards have decided to go get CC Sabathia. I don't
think they can, nor should they, swing the kind of package San Diego
wants for Jake Peavey. Personally, I don't think A.J. Burnett is going
to be worth the deal that he gets, either in terms of health or
So who exactly is out there that's just going to be the
solution? Somehow, I doubt that San Francisco is going to deal us Matt
Cain for the remains of Chris Duncan, no matter how many trophies they
have that could use a good crotch polishing
- Aaron Schafer