Arbitrary Decisions

There are a lot of good things about Winter Warm-Up.  For one, it raises a lot of money for Cardinals Care.  (Kudos to Adam Wainwright for pledging part of his karaoke receipts to help defray the loss of a day this year.)  It lets folks meet the players and get autographs.  And, most importantly for this site’s sake, it brings some news to discuss to the middle of the cold winter.

The biggest news that came out of this weekend, of course, was the fact that the Cardinals are going to take Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha to an actual arbitration hearing.  On the face of it, this seems crazy.  After more reflection….it still seems crazy.  There aren’t a lot of things that get an overwhelming consensus in Cardinal Nation, but this is one of them.

I point out every year around this time, when the Cards are either settling their arbitration cases or filing and then settling later, that you have to go back to 1999 and Darren Oliver to find the last time St. Louis and one of its players went before an arbiter.  I said last night on the podcast that I didn’t think John Mozeliak was even in the organization that far back.  He was (he joined the club in 1995) but was an assistant in the scouting department at the time.  I don’t say that to indicate Mo isn’t going to be good at this, just that he’s never actually gone through the process.

It’s funny, but I’ve always felt like the streak of avoiding arbitration was a badge of honor for the club.  Nobody should want to go into a hearing and have to denigrate, in any form, one of their employees.  I understand it could be a necessary part of doing business, but I would think you should do everything you can to avoid that, which includes not ruling out reaching an agreement after the filings.  Heck, if you are afraid of an inflated midpoint, file lower than you want to settle at.  You run the risk of offending the player a bit there as well, but I think if you settle those hurt feelings go away.  Hearing that the player is lacking in X, Y, Z takes longer to heal up.

This policy was put down at the beginning of the offseason, it appears, and was going to be followed no matter who didn’t agree to contracts, but I bet Mo wishes it’d been Trevor Rosenthal or Matt Adams that couldn’t come to terms rather than their de facto staff ace.  There’s stronger reasoning for going to arbitration with those two, given their roles and their history, and you’d think that the team and their camp would have been farther away on the dollars.  Apparently not so much, as both of those players (and Kevin Siegrist) signed before the deadline hit.  Wacha would probably also fit into this scenario if he was asking for a lot more than the club wanted to give.  However, that isn’t the case.

I just don’t get the benefit of going to a hearing with your best pitcher.  As Joe Schwarz mentioned in one of the links above, a win could help set a lower baseline for future filings, but 1) how are you going to win with the season Martinez put up last year and 2) how much, really, is saving $350,000 here going to multiply?  Let’s not even factor in this whole idea that there’s plenty of payroll room, especially since payroll has actually gone down over the winter, and there’s a billion dollar TV contract on the horizon.  No, let’s look bad by trying to skimp on a player that we are going to need to be competitive next year and the years to come.

Look, we’ve already seen that St. Louis’s magical “hometown discount” is pretty much nonexistent anymore and this idea that you get to play before “the best fans in baseball” is worth close to bupkis when it comes to signing a player to a contract.  You’d think you’d rather generate some goodwill by avoiding a hearing where you have to say anything negative about a guy like Martinez.  It feels like a situation where you are being penny wise and pound foolish.

I’m a parent, so I know that at times you have to follow through on a threat to make sure they know you will do what you say you’ll do.  Which may be what we have here, that Mo’s kinda backed himself into a corner because he told these agents they’d go to arbitration and they tried to call his bluff.  Maybe that’s been a problem for the staff over the last couple of years.  I don’t know, but it’s a bad look and I hope Mo finds a way to avoid this and save face at the same time.

The front office has more information than we do.  They know the path they want to take.  I’m not saying that this is the wrong move because I don’t know all of that.  I am saying it really, really appears like the wrong move.

Lots of other things came out of the shortened WWU, like the fact Randal Grichuk had knee surgery to start the offseason (he says he’s better now) and Kolten Wong is coming in trying to win the second base job, no matter what the team says, but the last interviews of the event probably were the ones most focus on, as Mike Matheny says there are no plans to rest Yadier Molina this season.  You can imagine how well THAT went over.

“My job description is to win games,” Matheny said. “And if I have a player that I feel like is going to help us win games and that I feel is able to answer the bell, he’s going to be in the lineup.”

The problem is, of course, Matheny has shown no aptitude for understanding if a player can help win games or answer the bell.  We saw that as he continued to run out Brandon Moss last year in the midst of the worst batting slump most of us have ever seen.  We saw that when he resisted moving Trevor Rosenthal out of the closer role even as he was losing games right and left for the club.  We’ve seen it time and time again that if you leave it up to Mike Matheny, he’s going to err on the side of playing a player too much for the most part.

Yes, Molina had a great second half last year.  It was remarkable what he was able to accomplish and I’m not saying that his time behind the plate should be severely curtailed at all.  Remember, though, he had a .671 OPS in the first half when he was playing just as much if not more.  You could make the argument that the four day break in the middle of the season, when he didn’t go to the All-Star Game, rejuvenated him a bit.  (You could also say the slight motivated him, which would probably be fair as well.)  We went through what some catchers have produced at Yadi’s age and older when we talked about the issues around his extension.  It tended not to go very well for those guys.  Yadi could easily be the exception, but he’s caught a lot more innings than most of those guys have.

I guess we should give credit to Matheny for coming out and saying it like this instead of saying that they are going to rest him more and then the backup catcher makes his first appearance in mid-April and the second in mid-June.  At least we know what we are going to get, huh?

I’m glad that Molina wants to be a lifetime Cardinal and I hope that he is.  I just hope he’s not a broken-down shade of himself by time he gets to that point.  Let’s put it this way–I’m fine with Molina playing as much as he wants if he produces.  I just hope Matheny can realize when to rest him before it becomes a problem.  I don’t have a lot of confidence that is the case, but I can hope.  At least Carson Kelly will be getting time at Memphis.  This is the reason folks didn’t want him to be the backup in St. Louis this year.

The talk from this weekend was welcome, because it was baseball in January, but I don’t know that it was comforting.  Hopefully we’re ordering crow on both of these things later this season.  It wouldn’t be the first time!

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Last updated: 10/06/2022