That statement is really always true. He said in his interview with one of my fellow UCBers that his job is a 24/7/365 job, and that’s definitely true. In this case, though, I’m talking about the next step in the offseason. Mo has done a great job at improving this offseason, both through trade and free agency, but now it’s getting down to arbitration time.
When the season ended, the Cardinals had the potential to have 5 players in arbitration. The Cardinals non-tendered Axford, and so that eliminated one. They traded two more away in Freese and Salas, only to get another one in Bourjos. That also left Descalso and Jay as the other two arbitration eligible players. All three filed for arbitration on Tuesday, the deadline to file for arbitration. Let’s look at the three players, and each of their salaries.
2013 Salary – $524,000
Jay’s arbitration is by far the most interesting of them all, at least to me. Jon Jay has been the starting center fielder, and since he has been playing decent, staying healthy, and contributing to the club, Jennifer Langosh projected that he’d get somewhere around $3 million – $3.5 million in arbitration. Before the Bourjos trade, MLB Trade Rumors projected that he’d get around $3.4 million. For a starting center fielder in the league, that’s not bad, but that’s where the question lies, at least for me. It’s the popular opinion that Bourjos is going to get the starting job next year, and Jay is going to be a left-handed bat off the bench. How much do you pay for a left-handed bat off the bench, though? $3 million or more? I think Mo remembers well the failed Ty Wiggington experiment, where they paid him $2.5 million last year to be a pinch hitter, and they released him. I’m not sure he’s going to be willing to pay him that much to sit on the bench.
So then what do they do? The Cardinals haven’t actually made it to an arbitration hearing since 1999 because they like to work these things out before it gets that far. I think that if they can’t agree on a salary that makes sense for a guy who’s coming off the bench ($1 million – $1.5 million), then they should just not sign him at all. I know some people want him on the bench. I can see why. He’s a career .293/.356/.400 hitter, but last year, he declined in each of those categories, and his defense also declined. He did pretty good off the bench earlier in his career, and that also speaks well of him. Looking at the outfield in the majors and the top of the minors, it’s getting a little crowded, and with that expected salary, he could be the odd man out. Robinson is a serviceable backup, and I personally think could be just as good as Bourjos. Oscar Taveras could take Jay’s spot on the roster if Jay isn’t signed. I’ve heard a lot about Piscotty and Ramsey as well, as they look to be ready soon. Each of those options would make close to the league minimum, MUCH less than Jay’s projected salary. I would not be upset if Jay wasn’t in a Cardinal uniform in 2014, and be assured that the future is taken care of.
EDIT: according to people smarter than me, who you can see in the comments, the Cardinals have to sign Jay to a contract because they tendered him in December. This makes sense, but upon my own research, the arbitration contracts are not guaranteed, and so the team may choose to release the player during or possibly before Spring Training and only owe 30 or 45 days of termination pay. The team would risk a grievance filed by the MLBPA trying to get the full contract money out of the team, saying the team cut the player only for economic reasons. I stated this in the comments, but I will restate here as well: my worry is that they over-pay Jay to sit on the bench, and then next year, Matt Carpenter, Lance Lynn, and Tony Cruz all become arbitration eligible. Then, in 2016, all the rookies who did great last year become eligible: Adams, Miller, Rosenthal, Maness, Kelly (wasn’t a rookie, but won’t be eligible until 2016), etc. Over-paying Jay to sit on the bench this year may hurt later.
2013 Salary – $512,500
Bourjos is one of the harder ones for me because I just haven’t seen him play. Jennifer Langosh projects him to make $1 million – $1.3 million. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $1.1 million. From what I can tell, he seems to be an above average defender, but an average to below-average hitter. The one biggest knock on him is that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. That’s why they don’t expect him to make near as much as Jay, even though if Bourjos stays healthy, he’ll probably be the one in CF, and Jay will be the one on the bench. I don’t think that price is too much to risk on a guy who could be the everyday center fielder, and at worst have him on the bench or even the DL.
2013 Salary – $511,000
This is his first arbitration year. Jennifer Langosh projects him to make $1.1 million – $1.5 million. MLB Trade rumors projects $1.2 million. This is what I was talking about earlier with Jay. That’s a good salary for a guy who is a career .243/.310/.346 hitter who can play multiple positions adequately (but only adequately, not great). I would not be surprised if they make that deal and keep him as the main utility backup infielder. That would make the most sense to me.
I think that Descalso and Bourjos will be easy to sign, because their salaries make sense. Jay will be a tougher pill to swallow. I think that he might ask for too much money to sit on the bench. I don’t want to pretend that I know what Mo will do with him, but everyone is just assuming that Mo will bring him back. Nobody is talking about the possibility of not bringing him back, except Ryan Witt from The Examiner, but I would agree with his analysis. It may make more sense to cut ties with Jay and move on for the sake of the future of the club.