Tag Archive | "Arbitration"

Proactive Cardinals Lock Up Invaluable Asset In Lynn

The Cardinals proved themselves to be proactive once again in keeping their own in tow by forgoing the arbitration process with pitcher Lance Lynn. As opposed to letting a negotiator set the tone for their future with the 27-year-old right-hander, the club bought out his full stretch of arbitration eligible seasons to the tone of a three year deal that could reach a maximum amount of $23.5 million. And in doing so the club not only protected itself from issuing a potentially record-setting deal, it also shored up its most consistent—and suddenly invaluable—components.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at St. Louis Cardinals
Lynn had long been plagued by the perception of being an inconsistent contributor, an image that was simultaneously both right and wrong. Over the course of his first three seasons, few pitchers had been as victorious as often as Lynn has been. An All-Star in 2012 when he went on to win a career-best 18 games, Lynn is one three pitchers to notch 15 or more victories over the past three seasons and third winningest pitcher in the National League, behind only Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. He has been very durable as well; making at least 33 starts each of the past three years and topping 200 innings in each of the previous two campaigns.

Yet despite these high marks, he has been plagued by awful bouts of inconsistency in the past as well, in addition to an image of his success being more a device of run support instead of stellar work done on his own. During his 18-win 2012 season, he struggled so badly down the stretch that he was pulled from the rotation late in the season. In 25 August innings, he posted a 6.66 in seven games and from August 26th through September 9th, he worked from the bullpen until regaining his form to close out the year with four solid starts and an encouraging postseason showing.

2013 saw more of the same however, as he opened up the year with a 7-1 record from April through May into a three month run of an ERA over 5.00 and 6-8 record from June through August. Despite once again rebounding with a strong September and October, Lynn had established a track record of extreme inconsistency as the season wore on.

However, he broke the mold that was quickly being set for him last summer. After entering the season amid questions about where he would factor into the Cardinal starting rotation—if at all—he set out and had his finest season of his career. He never posted an ERA over 4.00 in any month and instead of wilting as the summer grew hotter, he matched its heat in his performance. He carried the Cardinal rotation through nearly unanimous bouts with injuries through the second half, posting a 2.22 ERA after the All-Star Break and limiting opponents to .228 average against.

In short, he conquered his greatest demon and made another step up the mountain towards becoming an unquestioned frontline starter. And whether it is ready to be accepted or not, that is exactly what Lynn has become as he enters his fourth year in the Cardinal rotation—and not a moment too soon.

The Cardinal rotation enters 2015 with its ace in Wainwright returning from offseason elbow surgery and Michael Wacha’s status to be determined as he works his way back into starting shape after a shoulder injury that shortened his season as well. Lynn’s accession to carrying the weight of the rotation will carry over to his responsibility shifting from quality innings eater, to bonafide source of wins, not just beneficiary of his team’s production.

There are wins for both parties involved. Lynn has quietly become one of the game’s steadiest contributors. And in a time where the cost of obtaining quality pitching can have a franchise changing financial ramifications, getting one of the game’s most dependable options for an annual value of just north of $7 million per season instantly becomes one of the shrewdest deals that John Mozeliak has maneuvered to date.

While Mozeliak acknowledged that a  longer pact that stretched past just his currently team controlled years was discussed, but ultimately not able to be worked out at the time, both parties come away from the negotiations in a better place than they enter them from.  Lynn gets a handsome increase from the $535, 000 he earned in 2014 and also see the reward that befits his accomplishments in affirming his value to team a year ago.

Yet another victory for a guy that has made such an outcome his specialty.

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Are Descalso’s Days Numbered?

Daniel Descalso will enter the spring simultaneously in an unfamiliar, yet accustomed, position. In one regard, he is at odds with the team over his contract, and as a first-time eligible arbitration candidate, he gets to stake a claim for himself. GM John Mozeliak has stated that both sides have some “significant differences” between their stances on the subject, and is even willing to take it past arbitration and to a trial potentially.

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However, at some point, the matter will be settled, and in the case of Descalso, that is when things could become oddly clear—in one direction or another. In one regard, he’ll be back in a position that he has found himself in the past, which is showing up to compete for a role. However, for a change, there is no clear role that works in his favor alone.

“We’ll see where I fit,” was Descalso’s own take on what capacity he could serve in for the 2014 Cardinals, which is a very reasonably uncertain take on the upcoming month.

The Cardinals underwent an infield facelift since last October, trading away David Freese, while moving Matt Carpenter back to third base. Additions were made in the forms of free agents Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis, while the organization’s Player of the Year in Kolten Wong has been promoted to assume a daily role in the majors as well. All things considered, it is a tight spot for Descalso, who just a year ago, was in a competition (albeit a brief one) for the starting second base job last spring.

But things have not gone in his direction much over the past year. His average stayed south of .240 for the second consecutive season a year ago, in fewer at-bats than the year before. Descalso’s claim for place value is as a part-time player, but his performance last season torpedoes that idea as well. As CBS 920’s Corey Rudd points out, in career off the bench, he carries a .432 OPS mark, which drags him south of even Pete Kozma’s offensive value, which has been much more maligned than even that of Double D.

Yet the most eminent threat to his place could be even beyond contractual issues or continued offensive shortcomings, rather it is that his niche is being closed in on as well. Being able to take to the field as late inning defensive upgrade has been his benefit, but it is also being closed in on by the Cardinal additions, and can be pressured by the continued emergence of Greg Garcia as well.

While seeing time in Memphis at both second base and shortstop (sound familiar?), the left-handed hitting (once again, ahem) Garcia hit .271, yet saw a clear uptick in his late season production after getting over a nagging hamstring issue in the first half of the season. Garcia had an encouraging effort in his first spring training, and could be a viable option for the club if he as a repeat effort.

Adding to the equation that Ellis has expressed an openness to play multiple positions if needed and the continued presence of Kozma may be required due to the limitations of Peralta in the field, and Descalso’s margin for error is getting tighter and tighter.

Creating a clear purpose is of the utmost importance for the reserve candidates for any roster, and for a team with as much brimming talent as the current Cardinals feature, having clear mark is an absolute. Descalso’s most distinguishable feature is quickly becoming not much more than being a familiar name, which can become easy to forget in the rat race of March baseball.

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What Does The Future Hold – Cardinals Contracts and Scenarios

As the St. Louis Cardinals face the final weekend of the National League Championship Series, and the baseball year as a whole rolls into its final go around shortly, the show still goes on, regardless of outcome. Sooner or later, the tone of the year quickly turns to the personnel part and the future becomes the present. Free agency, retirements, trades and rumors will rule the roost for the next three months, and the Cardinals will be far from on the outside looking in.

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While the team has the rare pleasure of having the vast majority its entire core and active roster under team control for not only 2013, but 2014 as well, the business is safe to continue as is for the near future. But exactly how is the design of the team set up entering the winter? Here is the entire breakdown of the Cardinal roster, including what’s to come, what will cost what and how contract status works into the personnel decisions that could loom.

(Contract figures per Cots Contracts & Baseball Reference)

Guaranteed Contracts—$71.5M guaranteed in 2014

Adam Wainwright (32, $97.5M through 2018)

Matt Holliday (34, $51M through 2017 w/ $17M team option in 2018)

Yadier Molina (31, $44M through 2017, w/ $15M team option in 2018)

Allen Craig (30, $28.5M through 2017, w/ $13M team option in 2018)

Jaime Garcia (27, $17M through 2015, w/ $23.5M total in separate team options in ’16-’17)

Jason Motte (32, $7.5M through 2014)

Randy Choate (38, $6M through 2015)

The vast majority of the Cardinal veteran core is not only signed, but is contracted through the next four seasons at minimum. Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are likely on career carrying deals, while the team locked up young, quickly proven players such as Craig and Garcia early in their careers, and have control through their best years underway. Motte is the lone pending free agent on the 2014 team, and will have a show-and-prove year as he returns to the ninth inning from Tommy John surgery early in the season.

Arbitration Eligibles

John Axford (31, Stage 2, $5M in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

David Freese (31, Stage 2, $3.15M in 2013)

Jon Jay (29, Stage 1, $524,000 in 2013)

Daniel Descalso (26, Stage 1, $511,000 in 2013)

Fernando Salas (29, Stage 1, $512,000 in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

While Craig and Motte are locked up, the remainder of the formerly young Cardinal cast is in the midst of their arbitration years. At maximum, Freese, Jay and Descalso are under team control through 2015, but there will be a few tough calls in this tier of the team, and none harder to predict than Freese, who is due for a raise into the $5M range, but had his worst year of his career. Axford’s case will be the most interesting case, as he is a high-ceiling talent, but will carry a difficult price tag for what is likely a seventh inning bridge pitcher to carry.

Pre-Arbitration

Lance Lynn (27, Stage 3)

Matt Carpenter (28, Stage 3; Buy-out Candidate)

Tony Cruz (27, Stage 3)

Shane Robinson (29, Stage 3)

Shelby Miller (23, Stage 2)

Michael Wacha (23, Stage 2)

Carlos Martinez (22, Stage 2)

Pete Kozma (26, Stage 2)

Trevor Rosenthal (24, Stage 2)

Kevin Siegrist (24, Stage 2)

Seth Maness (25, Stage 2)

Matt Adams (25, Stage 2)

Joe Kelly (26, Stage 2)

Keith Butler (25, Stage 2)

Sam Freeman (26, Stage 2)

Tyler Lyons (26, Stage 2)

John Gast (25, Stage 2)

Kolten Wong (22, Stage 2)

Adron Chambers (27, Stage 2)

The core of the Cardinal team is its youth, as the group that was heralded as the top organization in all of baseball before the season has seen many of its jewels hit the big leagues. Of the 19 players in this section, no less than 12 are virtual locks to be on the Opening Day roster, and none will come in at cost of more than $525,000. This is where the cost control of youth, performing youth at that, shows it’s most advantageous asset. And with only Lynn, Carpenter, Cruz and Robinson on pace to reach arbitration status over the next two years, unless the team decides to up the ante on an early long-term deal to buy out any of this group’s arbitration seasons, this will be a strong asset on the side of the team’s purchasing power, if needed.

Free Agents

Carlos Beltran ($13M)

Jake Westbrook ($8.75M, $9.5M team option will be declined)

Chris Carpenter ($10.5M, will likely retire)

Rafael Furcal ($7M)

Edward Mujica ($3.2M)

Rob Johnson ($750,000)

There are a few ifs and a few certainties here. The certainties start with Jake Westbrook, who’s 2014 option is all but certain to be declined. Furcal and Carpenter will not return as well, with retirement on the horizon for Carpenter and Furcal missing all of the season with Tommy John surgery, and the team having moved on from him before spring training commenced. Mujica is due for a raise, despite his late season struggles, and will likely price himself out of returning for the capacity he would be needed in.

 

Post-2014 Free Agent Candidates

Motte, Axford, Freese

Post 2015 Free Agent Candidates

Garcia, Choate

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The St. Louis Cardinals Acquire Reliever From Milwaukee

BREAKING – The St. Louis Cardinals have acquired John Axford from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for a player to be named later, according to the team and first noted by Kary Booher of the Springfield News Leader.

JohnAxford

Axford, the once mighty closer for the Brewers, has served as the team’s eighth-inning guy for the majority of the 2013 season.  His performance has been far from his former, dominant self.  He is allowing greater than 1.5 runners per inning pitched and has already surrendered as many home runs this year as he has in any other year.  His strikeout rates are down, though his walk rates appear to be steady.  He is a work horse type pitcher that has already appeared in 62 games this season and does add some veteran relief to the back end of the bullpen.  He does produce a solid ground ball rate just below 44% and the Cardinals are probably hoping to catch lightning in a bottle by putting him back into meaningful ball games.

Axford is in his arbitration years as a “Super Two” player, which leaves him under team control through 2016.

Far from the move that most fans or pundits believe to be the one the Cardinals needed to make, it does inject a new and steady arm to the bullpen for a relatively low cost, depending on the prospect heading to Milwaukee.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
You can find his work on Yahoo!InsideSTL, and here on i70.
Talk baseball with him on Twitter @poisonwilliam

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Is Mujica Playing His Way Out of St. Louis?

The early season tailspin of the Cardinals season was due much in part the inability to close games out late. The struggles extended when the search to find the right arm to fill in to the final frame role. Yet, when Edward Mujica took the ball to close out for the first time on April 18 in Philadelphia, everything changed, because Mujica’s performance didn’t. He converted that save for the club, and hasn’t wasted a chance since, and it’s no coincidence that since he established himself even later in games, and this weekend he saved both of the Cardinal wins, running his season total to a perfect 13 for 13.

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“Chief” has taken the same lock down performance he brought to seventh inning a year ago over this season, and has firmly established himself as the club’s most reliable reliever. Since arriving in St. Louis last August, he has put up a 1.19 ERA in 45.1 Cardinal innings, an effort that has also seen him perform unflappably in two different roles in the Cardinal pen. “Adding Mujica was huge for us,” pitcher Mitchell Boggs stated regarding his impact upon arrival last year. “He stabilized our bullpen and gave us another proven arm that could go out there night in and night out. We took off as a bullpen when we got him.”

Historically, he was not a final inning arm before coming to St. Louis. His career ERA in the eighth inning is 4.96, while 3.16 in the ninth. Yet, with his success closing out games raising his profile, it makes him a sleeper candidate for a guy having a huge contract year.

Hitting the market with a ninth inning grade is much different than a seventh/eighth inning one. Mujica, who is bringing in just over $3 million for the 2013 season, which was due from his final arbitration year, is setting himself up for a bigger boost due to the presence of one of the most rewarded stats in baseball: saves. And with Jason Motte on the mend and with no easy date to say when he’ll be ready to go, there’s a chance the Cardinals will have to get very competitive to keep him in the stable.

As things stand now, he’s aligning himself to be among the best relievers in the National League this season, and if history shows anything, it’s that a big jump in saves can equal a very solid jump in pay grade. When Brandon League saved 37 games for the Mariners in 2011, he had never bettered six before in a season. He also had never bettered $2.2 million per season either, yet when he neared free agency this past winter, the Dodgers handed him $27.5 million over the next four seasons, much in part due to that breakout year only one season removed. Similar cases can be seen recently with Joel Hanrahan, Grant Balfour and Francisco Cordero. The closer market overall will be very open for “jump biding” this winter, meaning it’s ripe for the over pay, which damages the Cardinals chances at retaining Mujica at a manageable price, even in a setup capacity.

Yet, the need for a return to St. Louis will be highly influenced by the price, as well as the contingencies. Trevor Rosenthal is in the wings, and is being groomed to be the ninth inning arm of the future, regardless of Motte’s status. If the price for Mujica surpasses the $5 million mark annually (which it seems guaranteed to do), is there a chance the Cardinals bow out in favor of parking one of the promising arms within the system in the role for nearly 90% less? With Rosenthal as well as Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, and potentially Mitchell Boggs, in the wings, the Cardinals hold over until Motte returns at the back of the bullpen is solid. And while Mujica has been without a doubt one of the great coups of John Mozeliak’s tenure, his continued success could continue to draw his time to close at Busch.

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The Evolving Kansas City Royals: The Offense

For several years now the Kansas City Royals have had one of the better farm systems in Major League Baseball.  Most teams should be so lucky.  The Royals haven’t been able to translate this advantage into success on the field and there would seem to be one very good reason for this.

Mike_Moustakas

You can’t win the World Series with the AAA Storm Chasers.  It takes time to scout and develop major league talent.  While developing young talent can be exciting, it usually comes with long periods of growing pains while the fans wait for the team to assemble all of the necessary pieces to win consistently.  And if you’re a mid-market team like the Royals, then you hope that you have enough players developed each year to keep costs down.

But the patience may be paying off for Royals fans as they are now getting a glimpse at what a winning, home-grown baseball team looks like in Kansas City.  Mike Moustakas, who was a 1st round draft pick in 2007, had 20 home runs and 73 RBIs last year in 560+ at bats.  Despite having a slow start in April, Moustakas has shown signs that his bat is coming alive hitting 3 home runs in the last week.  Moustakas isn’t available for arbitration until 2015 and doesn’t become a free agent until 2018.  Moustakas is still far from the player the Royals want him to be though.  He drew only 39 walks and struck out 124 times last year.  However, if Moustakas can learn some discipline at the plate he is sure to be the guy holding down the hot corner for years to come at Kauffman stadium.

There is cause for optimism for Moustakas as his first year stats are not all that dissimilar to the numbers that outfielder Alex Gordon put up in his debut year.  Gordon, another 1st round pick from 2005 also struck out in excess of 130 times with only 41 walks.  You won’t hear anyone complaining about Alex Gordon though as the Royals have developed him into a player that turns in a 300 plus batting average every year.  Now hitting in the 3rd spot in the lineup, he is currently batting over .320 this year and already has 6 home runs to go with that average.  Gordon is signed through 2015 with a club option for the 2016 season.

Gordon’s breakout is exactly what the Royal’s front office is hoping will happen for Eric Hosmer this year.  Hosmer, yet another first round pick from 2008 broke into the league in 2011 with 19 home runs and a .293 average.  As with other rookies, the walk rate could have been better but this was certainly a better rookie season than most expected.  Unfortunately it was followed up by a lack luster year in 2012 as his average dipped 60 points.  His average on balls in play (BABIP) for 2012 was a head hanging 255.  Hosmer is still incredibly young and should be able to correct his issues from last year.  Balls in play for 2013 are already up to 326.  Hosmer is available for arbitration next year so this season he is the player to watch as the Royals have been pretty open about how much they expect from him.  In fact, they probably expect him to be Billy Butler…at least by the numbers.

Billy Butler, if you’re keeping track, is also a 1st round draft pick, consistently hits for average and power.  In his 7th year playing for the Royals he has racked up 107 home runs and over 500 RBIs and will probably get his 1,000th career hit before you finish reading this page.  This is the type of production the Royals want from Hosmer and it’s also why Butler’s 2015 option is starting to look like either the window for a home grown championship team or the year the Royals break out the check book and pay up.

While Butler is the type of player that all teams hope to develop, possibly the most important and likely the most overlooked piece to this young organization is Salvador Perez.  At 23 years old, Perez already holds the Royals franchise pick-off record for a single season.  The Royals believe that he will become one of the game’s best defensive catchers in years to come, something that no championship team can be without.  And the kid can hit as well.  In over 140 career games, Perez is hanging onto a 300 plus average.  The Royals feel so good about Perez that despite his apparent lack of experience, they have him signed through 2016 with options all the way through 2019.

In a weak division, this offensive core might be enough to keep the Royals out of the basement for the foreseeable future but to be yearly contenders we’re still missing something.

Check back tomorrow for a look at the pitching staff.

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What Allen Craig’s new deal really means

The St. Louis Cardinals completed an agreement to keep first baseman Allen Craig in tow last week, but very well may have done much more than just that. The deal is a study in the obscure: both completely team and player friendly contract that helps both parties roughly equally. But to understand this, a grasp on the first base market, the financial position of the Cardinals and the club’s future forecast must be fully considered.

Allen-Craig

Understanding the first base market is essential to knowing how much of an exception the deal truly is. Craig, who will turn 29 in July, signed a 5-year extension that will carry through his 33rd birthday. First base is regularly one of the most lucrative in baseball, and upper tier contracts at the position are second to only top notch starting pitchers. To sample this, here is a breakdown of what each National League first baseman will take home this year (age – 2013 salary):

The Penthouse:

1.       Adrian Gonzalez: 31 ($21M)
2.       Ryan Howard: 33 ($20M)
3.       Joey Votto: 29 ($17M)

Middle Class:

4.       Adam LaRoche: 33 ($10M)
5.       Corey Hart: 31 ($10M)
6.       Todd Helton: 39 ($5M)
7.       Garrett Jones: 32 ($4.5M)

Pre arbitration group (Based on 2012 figures):

8.       Ike Davis: 26 ($3.6M-Super Two)*
10.   Yonder Alonso: 26 ($1M)*
11.   Freddie Freeman: 23 ($535,000)*
12.   Anthony Rizzo: 23 ($498,000)*
13.   Paul Goldschmidt: 25 ($482,000)*
14.   Brandon Belt: 25 ($481,000)
15.   Logan Morrison: 25 ($434,000)

9. Allen Craig: 28 ($1.75M)

The unique property of Craig’s deal is it still behaves like an arbitration deal through what would have been his those seasons (2014-16). He is the lowest paid non-arbitration eligible first baseman in the National League. However, it has securities that are manageable for the club, and secure for the player. Craig’s deal is for a guaranteed total of $31 million through the first five guaranteed years, with a sixth as a team option at $13 million for 2018. By that time Craig would be 34 years old, and entering his decline regardless of what he has accomplished in between. His peak should be at the average MLB point, which is generally 28-33, which is the heart of what the deal covers. The average per season value of this deal would be $6.2 million person, which falls in the heart of the middle-class of current market first base deals.

With the majority of the current holders of the biggest deals seeing them expire during the life of Craig’s deal, while other up and comers (Rizzo, Goldschmidt, Belt, Freeman) due for major raises over the next five years, Craig’s deal will continue to be a bargain for years to come, even as it escalates on annual per year value each season. In 2014, the payout is $2.75M, in ’15 $2.74M, then $5.5 and $9M in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The final two years are potentially worth $24 million, if the option for the final season is activated. If the roof of the current middle class of National League first base deals is considered Hart and LaRoche’s $10 million mark, then Craig will remain a reasonable signing at a high pay position for 66% of the life of his contract. Not too bad.

It is the perfect deal for the place that the Cardinals find themselves in annually in the market. A small market team, which competes at a slightly above middle-class payroll, and is in the midst of controlled turnover. The 2013 Cardinals will be the most expensive collection the team has ever fielded, coming in at just over $115 million. In the next two years, contracts for Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal and Jake Westbrook will all expire, while arbitration numbers for David Freese, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Mitchell Boggs and Matt Carpenter will all increase. While a potential extension for Wainwright, along with a rising rate for Jaime Garcia will eat up more of the team’s available dollars, the team is in a very envious position, with very manageable talent-to-dollar control returns.

And for the club to continue to compete at its current level, that’s what the Cardinals must always have; a certain amount of “bang for the buck” deals. Craig’s contract sets precedence for that. He is one of the most productive hitters on the team and at a similar age as the rest of the team’s late-blooming core. With Craig’s mark setting somewhere of the competitive medium for deals on the maturing team, there is an increased chance of keeping the current core together and reasonably priced, while the promise the Cardinals farm is showing grows and inhabits the low price, controlled years they are moving out of right now.

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Cardinals Position of Interest: Organization Third Base

The scene at third base for the Cardinals has been an ever changing one in recent years. It was one they addressed in multiple ways over the past five years, by drafting two collegiate third basemen in the past 4 first rounds, and trading for another. The one that was acquired via traded panned out for the best, and now David Freese has become the clear long-term preference at spot.

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However, the club is aware that the page will turn on even him soon enough, and have recently once again focused heavily on upgrading the position within the organization. What does this mean for the team, both now and moving ahead?

Majors: Freese has stepped up to become one of the main bricks in the foundation of the organization. His postseason heroics in 2011 pushed him up a notch on baseball’s radar, and he responded in kind with his first All-Star appearance last season. Biggest difference in his performance was that he stayed healthy across a full season to post the type of numbers he was capable of all along. He played in a career-high 144 games a year ago, and posted career bests in over eight categories along the way. The 29-year-old is under control via arbitration for another two seasons, and if he remains healthy, will be the mainstay through his prime.

Matt Carpenter (who basically seems like the fallback option at every position on the team) rose through the system at the hot corner is a very credible back up option. At age 27 however, his best years and Freese’s will occur simultaneously, thus the desire to try his hand (and bat) in other more available roles. Daniel Descalso is also capable of spending time there if needed. He made 61 starts at the position in 2011 filling in while Freese missed time due to a fractured hand.

High Minors: Moving to Memphis, there’s no true next of kin on deck. That distinction belonged to Zack Cox, the club’s 2010 first round pick, until last season when he was exchanged for Edward Mujica at trade deadline. Moving down to the Double-A, the same story carries over; there was no real prospect that is moving through the system that has a potential future impact in St. Louis. The idea could be that Stephen Piscotty, who has moonlighted in right field but played third in his debut last year at Quad Cities at the High-A level.

Low Minors: The lower rungs of the minors show where the franchise is starting to plan for the future at the position, as it is one of the positions most heavily focused on in recent years. In addition to Piscotty, the club took two more third basemen in the last spring’s draft in Patrick Wisdom and high schooler Carson Kelly. Both were included in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10 prospects for the organization this season.  Wisdom hit .282 in short season Batavia in his pro debut as a 20 year old, while Kelly hit nine homers in 56 games at Rookie level Johnson City.

Prognosis: While there is a bit of a gap from Major League level down to the next wave of talent at the position, the organization’s succession plan is clear. In the next three seasons, Freese will likely continue to be option A in St. Louis, with Carpenter in tow in some capacity as well potentially. The club used the 2012 Draft to provide plenty of long-term options over the next half decade to succeed Freese in St. Louis, or at the very least, work into a role with the Cardinals in a capacity such as Carpenter has over the last two years.

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David Freese and the time value of money

The St. Louis Cardinals reached an agreement with third baseman David Freese on Friday on a deal for the 2013 season. The deal will be for a reported $3.1 million dollars, and with it, the team avoided heading to arbitration to settle the deal. However, the deal represents the just beginning of potentially difficult decision making process over the next few years. And the relationship between the 30-year old and the club could be put the test as well.

MLB: NLCS-San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals

Freese represents a paradox in several areas. He’s a late bloomer that’s coming into his own during his prime seasons. While his 2011 postseason heroics and honors set the tone, he really put his stamp on his future in what he delivered in the follow up season. In 2012, he played a career-high 144 games, while hitting for a .293 average, along with 25 home runs, 79 RBI, 25 doubles and 70 runs scored, all career highs as well. He took this into his first arbitration-eligible season, and the Cardinals responded with a $2.4 offer, while Freese’s agent countered with a $3.75 million offer. While they settled at about the middle point between the offers, he’s in a position to get some substantial jumps up the ladder in the next few years.

Freese is entering into his negotiation years at an interesting time, for both player and club. The third base market has seen the majority of its top flight players locked to contracts the last two years. Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Evan Longoria and Martin Prado have all received new contracts at the position in recent memory, essentially setting the bar for money at the position for the near future. These deals average at around $15 million per year over the life of a five year deal, and each represents a franchise cornerstone. However, it’s Prado’s deal from last month that is the most intriguing when accessing what Freese’s worth could be.

The 29 year old Prado signed a four-year, $40 million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks shortly after being traded from Atlanta last month. This deal represents what he will play at through his majority prime years (it will expire when he’s 330. It is a cut below the massive deals that aforementioned group received, but still a very a solid value-to-length deal. The similarities between the Freese and Prado are there as well: both are one-time All-Stars, with similar career batting numbers (Prado a .295 career hitter, Freese .296). Prado is a more versatile option in the field, but Freese carries a .345 career postseason batting average, a place where much of his value comes into play.

Freese is a large part of the foundation of the Cardinals going ahead, although he’s a notch below the type of cornerstone performer Wright or Zimmerman is. He’ll play this season at age 30, and is past the type of deal that either a young player or a player with longer resume would get at his age. While a medium-length/annual salary deal such as Prado received makes sense, it’s also hindered by his arbitration status. More likely than not, the Prado-like extension wouldn’t be approached until terms are exchanged next year, and for good reason. The raise he will play at this season is a raise of $2.6 million. If he continues to play at the level he established last year, a comparable raise could continue along, rising at close to the $7 million per year level by the time he is eligible to hit the open market in two years.

The Cardinals could very easily continue to maintain Freese through his arbitration seasons as a cost controlled option that continues to be a “wait and see” property. But if the subtle, yet hard line he stood this winter is any indication of what’s to come, Freese understands his value, and he won’t be long for having non-committal terms. Especially as he’s playing through his highest earning potential seasons, and the team is showing a willingness to put money up early to avoid arbitration, such as they did with closer Jason Motte last month.

There are several lines of legit questioning that can go into such a deal, many of which will be answered this year. Can he have another healthy summer? Will he continue to grow as an offensive presence, has he did a year ago or plateau? Obviously, the franchise won’t be forced into having to make a deal for two more years, which will serve as a fair measuring ground of what to do. A deal over five years would be difficult, which age as a primary consideration. Also, there’s the fact that much of the core of the team is in a similar place, with year-to-year deals with Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn to tend to.

But locking Freese up to a deal has some urgency to it that cannot be denied either. He’s a productive and already showing his prime level of play, but the Cardinals are also evolving as a team regularly now, and will be on the verge of a mini-youth movement over the next two years, as their top shelf prospects begin to push into the picture at the Major League level. Finding the right deal to keep Freese situated in St. Louis is important, and provides face and play value stability to the team at difficult position to do so at. However, timing is everything. And there is nobody wearing the birds on bat has a more bi-polar relationship with time than Freese does now.

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Carpenter Out Indefinitely

The St. Louis Cardinals called a press conference at 1:30 pm on Tuesday.  While rumors spread about contract extensions or arbitration resolutions, the reality set in quickly.

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter is kept away from Houston Astros Carlos Lee by umpire Marvin Hudson after the two have words in the third inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on May 13, 2010. Order was restored after the two benchs cleared.   UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Chris Carpenter has reported to the team that he is experiencing the same discomfort that he experienced last season that led him to miss the majority of the season and have a rib removed to attempt a comeback.  When the possibility of another rehab assignment was brought up to Carpenter in the past, he claimed that a setback of this nature would possibly bring an end to his career.

When asked if he anticipated Chris Carpenter playing any role for the Cardinals in 2013, General Manager John Mozeliak simply stated “No, I do not”.

The team seems poised to handle the injury with an internal replacement, as pitchers Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller were mentioned by name during the press conference as players that were told to prepare to come to camp attempting to be a part of the rotation.

Speculation now runs rampant on whether or not Kyle Lohse could see a return to the Cardinals.  Lohse, a free agent at the end of last season, has seen very little interest in his services on the market thus far.  Many believe that is due to the compensation draft pick that would have to be surrendered in order to bring him onto a roster.  The Cardinals would obviously not have to be concerned with that in order to bring him back to the organization.

The decision on whether or not to bring in a free agent pitcher, Lohse or otherwise, may very well be related to the business behind the remainder of the Carpenter situation.  Insurance policies on contracts are commonplace these days and could earn the Cardinals somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-75% of Carpenter’s 2013 contract.  In addition, if Carpenter does officially retire, he would be walking away from his current contract and the team would no longer retain any liability to his current contract.

All things considered, it is a large blow to the St. Louis Cardinals going into a Spring Training that just became a lot more interesting.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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