With the first day of the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up in the books, we are left with many things to digest. Many players claimed to be in the best shape of their career. Others talked about how excited they are about changes they’ve made. Players say these things every year, but they’re good to hear nonetheless. One of the more frustrating things was yet another injury in which the news completely came out of nowhere as Randal Grichuk admitted to having been dealing with a knee injury for most of the 2016 season that required offseason surgery. However, the most frustrating thing that I heard was that the Cardinals will be taking both Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez to arbitration hearings.
The Cardinals haven’t had a contract negotiation go to an arbitration hearing since Darren Oliver in 1999. In that year, Oliver filed a salary request of $4.15 million and the Cardinals filed at $3.55 million. This $600,000 between proposed salaries was likely seen as a very large gap in 1999. This year, Martinez filed at $4.25 million and the Cardinals countered with a $3.9 million offer. Wacha filed at $3.2 million with the team filing at $2.8 million.
John Mozeliak stated that the team’s new arbitration strategy was to automatically go to hearing if an exchange was filed. He claimed the reason for this was that if a player felt that the team would settle after salary requests were exchanged then the player would submit a much higher salary request. Submitting a higher request would subsequently raise the midpoint between where the team and player filed, which is typically about where the two sides would settle. I have several issues with this approach.
If you are completely unwilling to negotiate after the filing date, what do you really gain from lowering the midpoint? If a player files a reasonable request then that would likely increase the players chances of winning the hearing. I find it hard to believe that the player would actually drop their request so much that their filing number would be significantly lower than what the midpoint would have been if the Cardinals were willing to negotiate after requests were filed. For example, if Martinez had filed at $4.5 million instead, that would make the midpoint $4.2 million which is lower than what he filed at anyway.
Next is that if the contract negotiation goes to a hearing the Cardinals will have to make a legitimate argument on why the player isn’t worth what he’s asking for. If it’s a player that likely won’t have a long future with the team then that’s one thing. But with Wacha and especially Martinez, these are guys that they could be looking to lock up with long-term deals in the near future. Players should be able to separate the business side of things from the baseball side, but I’m still having a hard time seeing any positives from this.
I don’t believe that always settling before going to a hearing is a good way to approach the negotiations. Players and agents must know that you’re willing to go to a hearing in order for you to have any sort of leverage against them. I get that. However, going to a hearing with your ace over $350,000 to make a statement is not the way to do it. The Cardinals should be willing to go to a hearing whenever they feel a player puts in an unreasonable request. If the team is correct in their assessment, they would likely win the hearing and their statement would be made. Always settling is not a good strategy, but neither is always going to a hearing after filing. Every situation is different and should be treated as such.
I’ve often defended the Cardinals front office for not spending money. I was fine with them letting Albert Pujols walk. I’ve been perfectly fine with them not committing long term to the many free agents that fans have very vocally wanted them to sign. This approach to arbitration however, is not the way a successful organization like the Cardinals should operate.
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