Arbitration Is A Four-Letter Word

Whatever the reason, John Mozeliak was a man possessed yesterday.  If you were standing close enough to him, it’s possible that you would have gotten an arbitration-avoiding contract as well.  Three of the four players eligible for arbitration settled yesterday, leaving only Jon Jay unsigned. It wouldn’t be a shock if he came to terms this weekend.

The Cards haven’t been to a hearing since 1999 with Darren Oliver. That’s before Mo, before anyone knew the name Pujols, before some folks that will be drafted this summer were speaking in complete sentences. I don’t think that the Cards have the record in this department, though. More and more, teams are buying out arb years or at least settling on a one-year deal before going before the arbitrator. It’s tough to tear a player down in a hearing, then turn around and tell him he’s a vital cog in the system. If the system was designed to get folks to agree on their own, it seems to be working.

Let’s take a look at these deals, going from least import to greatest. Tony Cruz will get $775,000 to sit behind the “break in case of emergency involving Yadier Molina” glass. Cruz probably should invest this money wisely, as it could be the last real contract he gets. We saw that the Cards didn’t trust him with extended play, as they signed George Kottaras and A.J. Pierzynski once Molina went down last year. It seems unlikely they’ll spend $1 million for such a limited backup next year, especially if Carson Kelly has a strong season in the minors. Cruz could bounce around the league as a defense-oriented backup, but those usually don’t cash in.

Peter Bourjos signed for $1.65 million.  It’s completely possible that this will turn out to be a major bargain for the Cardinals, though I think it’s much more likely that it’s going to be right in line with what we see out of Bourjos this season.  Jay is still going to be the starting center fielder, we know that, and it’s going to take a pretty serious dropoff (and quickly) for Bourjos to take over the role on a more permanent basis.  (We saw how long Mike Matheny’s leash can be for some folks last season.)  I do think, though, we’ll see Bourjos get a little more playing time even if Jay hits at about his regular line, especially if the rest of the offense will click more than it did in 2014.

Having Bourjos and Jason Heyward in the same outfield at the same time means that the few fly balls that pitchers are going to give up (now that leading fly ball pitcher Shelby Miller is in Atlanta) should be tracked down without too much trouble.  We saw an outstanding pitching staff last year but a repeat would seem possible with that upgraded defense.  If the offense allows it, I think Matheny will see that and let Bourjos play a little more often.  Again, it’s not going to be even a regular platoon, most likely, but I don’t think Bourjos gets buried on the bench.

That brings us to the big deal, the three-year deal Lance Lynn signed to buy out all his arbitration years.  It’s a little surprising the Cards didn’t get a free agency year in the deal as well, but given that Lynn missed being a Super Two in arbitration by just a few games, he may have felt that he’d already given them a “free year” as it were.  Lynn will be 30 when he hits free agency, closer to 31, and he probably wanted to have at least one shot at a payday.  I can understand and respect that.

So Lynn will make basically $7 million a year for the next three years.  What other pitchers are making $7 million in 2015?  A short list:

Brandon League
Huston Street
Jake Peavy
Joakim Soria
Hisashi Iwakuma
Fernando Rodney
Wade Davis

(Interestingly, old friend Justin Masterson signed a $9.5 million deal with the Red Sox.  If nothing else, that makes Lynn look like a bargain.  While I don’t think Masterson will be as bad as he was with St. Louis last year, there’s not a lot of great history for him.  On the flip side, Madison Bumgarner is just a shade under $7 million, which means he’s an even better bargain.)

While I didn’t go through all the teams at this site, I think it’s pretty interesting that so many of the pitchers being paid comparably to Lynn are relievers.  While there’s definitely a value to a guy that pitches the eighth or ninth, wouldn’t you rather get 180 or so innings out of your $7 million than 30-40?  Especially when they are strong innings, for the most part?

I’ll put up my interview with Jamie Pogue, the Cardinals’ bullpen catcher, sometime this weekend but we talked about Lynn last night and he commented about how Lynn has been absorbing a lot from John Lackey since the trade last July and he feels Lynn could be a leader on the staff when Adam Wainwright’s time is done.  While there’s a lot of contract analysis done on the stats on the field, which is appropriate and the bulk of what any contract should be for, we don’t always know how the player impacts the locker room.  There’s got to be some value for those intangibles as well.

Lynn’s only continued to progress during his time in the majors.  He basically eliminated “The Lynning” last year and avoided his post-All Star Break slide that he had in his first couple of seasons.  He’s been healthy, he’s been reliable, and he’s seemed to mature as he’s gotten older and gotten more experience.  (Funny how that happens, huh?)  I think it was a smart move by Mo, even if it wasn’t a coup or groundbreaking.  Not everything has to be a major steal.

There’s an interesting article up at Fangraphs today showing that Lynn may continue to be successful while he stays in the NL Central as he’ll face much fewer left-handers in the division.  While Lynn probably still needs to improve against left-handed batters on the whole, it’s nice to have him in a place where he can work on that without being thrown into the fire on a regular basis.

Winter Warmup starts tomorrow and there will be plenty of coverage on I70 Baseball and STL Cards ‘N Stuff.  Dathan will be heading there on Saturday for The Conclave, so be sure to stay tuned for his reports as well.  Also, Gateway To Baseball Heaven returns this Sunday at 9:30 over at Blog Talk Radio.  Baseball is coming, slowly but surely!

  • James Berry

    Lynn needed to not give up any FA years on his new contract. He deserves those upcoming years to make bank. He and his agent knows he’s more attractive at 30 as opposed to 32 on the market.

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