Cardinals focus attention on three arbitration cases
Important steps approach for Jay, Descalso and Bourjos, who remain unsigned
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals took care of most of their offseason business before the end of 2013, leaving the organization little left to do in terms of player acquisition. Their spending, however, is not quite done.
While the Cardinals are expected to remain observers through the rest of free agency, there is still some business the club must take care of in the weeks leading up to Spring Training. All three of the organization's arbitration-eligible players -- outfielder Jon Jay, infielder Daniel Descalso and outfielder Peter Bourjos -- remain unsigned.
Several important benchmarks in the arbitration process are approaching for players who cannot come to an agreement on a 2014 salary with their respective club. On Tuesday, those unsigned players will officially file their desired arbitration salary. Three days later, players and teams will exchange those figures, giving everyone an understanding of just how far apart the two sides remain from an agreement.
Negotiations can continue, but if a resolution cannot be reached independently, an arbitration hearing will be held over the first three weeks of February. During these hearings, an arbitration panel chooses one of the two figures in a binding decision.
The Cardinals, who last went to an arbitration hearing in 1999, would prefer to settle these three salary cases before a hearing is necessary. Teams are not limited to signing their arbitration-eligible players to a one-year deal, though none of the Cardinals' three is a candidate for a long-term deal.
Here is a closer look at each of the organization's three cases:
2013 salary: $524,000
2014 projected salary: $3 million-3.5 million
Analysis: Jay will see the biggest salary bump of the Cardinals' three arbitration-eligible players, and that is because of his role in recent years. While Jay may not be the team's starting center fielder in 2014, he will be paid for what he's done, not what may be ahead. Jay has been an everyday player for the last three seasons, surpassing 500 plate appearances in each of those years. He has a career slash line of .293/.356/.400, though his production did dip in all areas last year.
Because he enters the arbitration process after just missing Super Two eligibility a year ago, Jay has more service time than almost every other first-year arbitration-eligible player. That, too, works in his favor as he seeks a substantial salary increase. In terms of finding a recent comparison, consider the salaries earned by outfielder Drew Stubbs ($2.825 million) and Jason Heyward ($3.6 million) in their first arbitration year last season. Jay's numbers and service time would suggest his salary will fall in between those two.
2013 salary: $511,000
2014 projected salary: $1.1 million-1.5 million
Analysis: Descalso won't see near the salary increase that Jay will because he has not been an everyday player for most of his Major League career. Unlike Jay, Descalso has yet to reach 500 plate appearances in any of his four seasons; in fact, he has passed the 400-plate appearance plateau just once. That said, Descalso has proven himself a valuable utility infielder, capable of playing anywhere in the infield.
Though Descalso has spent his career bouncing around and filling in, he has averaged 84 starts a year over the last three seasons. His versatility brings value, and he was impressive enough in 117 games (61 starts) at third base in 2011 to be named one of three Gold Glove finalists at the position. Descalso enters the arbitration process for the first time with a career slash line of .243/.310/.346.
2013 salary: $512,500
2014 projected salary: $1 million-1.3 million
Analysis: Bourjos' case is hurt by the injuries that kept him out of the Angels' lineup for much of the past two seasons. Though Bourjos is a superior center fielder to Jay, consider the discrepancy in their offensive numbers. Both players made their Major League debuts in 2010 (Jay in April, Bourjos in August), yet Jay has played 184 more games and accrued 820 more plate appearances. Their 2014 salaries will reflect that gap.
Though Bourjos will have a chance to be an everyday player with the Cardinals, he'll be viewed in the arbitration process as having been a part-time player so far. If he does become the team's primary center fielder in 2014, Bourjos would see the substantial salary increase follow.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.