March 2008

Lucky Seven, halfway-through-Spring edition

1. Which longshot/surprise pitcher has the best chance of making the team: McClellan, Parisi, Motte, someone else?

2. Which longshot/surprise hitter has the  best chance of making the team: Mather, Barden, Marti, someone else?

3. Reyes: one good, one bad so far. What’s your hope for him this year? What’s your expectation?

4. Who will be left-handers in the bullpen on Opening Day (could be one, two or three)? Who should be?

5. Are the Mets in big trouble or little trouble?

6. What’s your favorite non-baseball website?

7. Beach, mountains or desert?

-M.

Publishing, entertainment, social advocacy

My colleague Ken Mandel, over at Phillies.MLB.com, wrote a really nice piece that I thought you guys might want to read. It’s generally about non-native-English-speaking players adjusting to life in the USA, but more specifically it’s a lot about old friend So Taguchi. I recommend giving it a read.

-M.

Re-assessing Rasmus

A few days back, maybe even a couple weeks ago by now, TLR made some comments that got a lot of people in a tizzy regarding Colby Rasmus. Essentially, he seemed to be saying that if the team was better with Rasmus as a part-timer, then he’d have no problem carrying Rasmus as a part-timer.

Today he said something different. I’m not sure whether to classify it as clarification, a change of position or what, but hopefully today’s comments sit better with a lot of the fan base:

"But the key thing is in this place, it would be a situation where he would play a lot.

"He needs to play at this point in his career.

(follow-up question, asking whether this really jibes with what he was saying earlier about it being OK if Rasmus was a 250-AB guy this year)

"If we have a void there, and we need him to win, yeah, we’ll take him. I don’t think we’re going to have a void there. I don’t know that we’re going to have a void. I think we have a legitimate competition."

(you’ve often talked about how players with options lose all ties. is that the case here?)

"He doesn’t win ties for one reason, because other guys he may be tied with are out of options, and he doesn’t win a tie because he needs to play. The optimum thing to do with him is to give him a lot of everyday experience. But that doesn’t mean, if all of a sudden we’re short of outfielders, and we need him, he’s [not] there."

-M.

A business primer

For some of you, this may be completely uninteresting, or it may be all stuff you already know. But I got a lot of mailbag questions, so I wanted to offer a little further illumination on how some of the business end of things works with regard to contracts and service time and whatnot.

First an important fundamental concept:

Service time determines a LOT. That’s why Prince Fielder is making $670,000 while Ryan Howard is making $10 million. And it’s why Pujols’ contract, though it’s worth an average of $14.3 million a year, guaranteed him $7 million in the first year. Up until a player reaches free agency eligibility, his salary is determined by a combination of service time and performance.

Comparable players are also important. This is tied in. Albert Pujols set a precedent for Ryan Howard, who set a precedent for Prince Fielder. This is a big part of why Rick Ankiel’s situation was so hard for both sides to read — good luck finding a comparable player.

Now, on to the details…

Players with up to about 2 2/3 years of Major League service time have basically no leverage. All players with zero years, one year or two years fall into this category. Then there’s a cutoff each year for what makes a player a "Super Two" — that is, a player with fewer than three years’ service time who is still arbitration-eligible. Brad Thompson, with two years plus 110 days, fell short this year. These players, not yet eligible for arbitration, are commonly called "zero-to-three" players. They are COMPLETELY cost-controlled, and therefore highly desirable if they can play.

Up until a certain point of the spring — this year it’s today — these players can negotiate with the team. Ideally, they reach an agreement on a salary, sign a deal and move on. If they DON’T agree, however, the team is fully within its rights to do what’s called renewing the contract, and simply assign a dollar figure to the player. In some cases, it’s right around what they were offering in the first place. In some cases, it’s less — almost as a punitive measure to the player for being difficult, or to make a point, or simply to save some cash. My understanding is that in Adam Wainwright’s case, the club did NOT do this.

Pujols made $900,000 in his final zero-to-three year. Ryan Howard also made $900,000 in his final year before arbitration. But it’s based on performance AND service time. Pujols didn’t necessarily perform any better in 2002 than he did in 2001, but he got more money after 2002 because he had more service time.

OK. That basically wraps the zero-to-threes.

Then you have arbitration-eligible players. Every player from "Super Twos" up to — but not including — six full years of Major League service time is considered arbitration-eligible. This year, the Cards’ group included So Taguchi, Aaron Miles, Todd Wellemeyer, Yadier Molina and Rick Ankiel.

Again, a combination of service time and performance determines salaries, so once the season ends, it’s possible to begin guessing what a player is likely to make. Based on these guesses, you get the first step of the arbitration process — tendering, or non-tendering, the player a contract. If the team tenders the player a contract offer, then the player will be back for the following year. If the team chooses to non-tender the player, the player becomes a free agent. It doesn’t mean he can’t return. It simply means that the club has no desire to allow the arbitration process to determine the salary. This happened with Miles this year. The Cards released Taguchi before the time came, because they wanted to draft Brian Barton.

Once players are tendered contracts, they can negotiate with the team. At a certain point in
the winter, as arbitration gets closer, the teams and players exchange figures. Often, this jump-starts the bargaining process, and many times the team and player come to an agreement at roughly the midpoint between their stances. A deal can be struck, for one year or multiple years, at any point up to the hearing.

However, once there’s a hearing, an arbitrator determines the player’s salary. And there is NO middle ground. Each side makes its case, and the arbitrator picks a winner. That is the player’s salary for the year. And I emphasize again, it’s largely determined by service time. Andruw Jones made $3.7 million in his first arbitration season and $8.2 million in the next. Then he signed a new deal, paying him $9.5 million for what would have been his third arbitration season, escalating to $11.5 million the following year and eventually to $13.5 million. Miguel Cabrera made $7.4 million in his first arbitration-eligible year, and he’ll make $11.3 million this year, his second.

The player and the team are subject to this process up until the winter finally comes that the player has six FULL seasons of service time. Not five years and 170 days, but six full seasons. There is no rounding up, as with the Super Twos.

At that point, the player is on the open market, where the whole equation changes. He has multiple bidders and is no longer cost controlled.

Anyway, hope this helps some people understand the process, and why Adam Wainwright is making less than $500,000 while Todd Wellemeyer is making $1 million.

-M.

(currently playing on the iPod: Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark)

Johnson update

Tyler Johnson has a "strained rotator cuff and tendinitis." He’ll be held out of pitching for a week, though he plans to do long toss and work on strengthening during that time. Haven’t talked to the medical staff yet, but Tyler seemed downright relieved — he was clearly worried it would be much worse.

-M.

They got us working in shifts!

A few additional thoughts and notes from today in Jupiter…

* Mr. McClellan certainly threw strikes. He gave up a lot of hard contact — very hard contact — in the first inning. But he had a good curveball, threw strikes, and as the manager sometimes says, he "didn’t scare." He’ll get more innings.

* Interesting sight after we talked with McClellan. Minor League camp starts tomorrow, officially, but they’re already getting some work in. Four of the more intriguing arms in the system threw off mounds right outside the clubhouse today, with Dyar Miller and Brent Strom among those looking on. Mark McCormick, Nick Webber, Eric Haberer and Jess Todd all threw. I couldn’t really tell you much about any of them, other than that Webber looks like he’s throwing really, really hard. But considering all McCormick has been through, it has to be a good sign that he was participating in something that other guys were doing too.

* 8 am bus for Viera tomorrow. No veteran is sad to miss that trip, I guarantee you.

-M, off till Tuesday as soon as I finish this McClellan feature.

(now playing on the iPod: Stones, Let It Bleed. Sometimes you need to go back to the old favorites)

Sunday camp tidbits

No tidbits tomorrow, as your faithful correspondent gets a desperately-needed day off. But in the meantime…

* TLR confirmed that he expects Sidney Ponson throw for Cards scouts at some point in the next week or so.

* Tyler Johnson is still choosing not to comment on his ailing shoulder. TLR acknowledged being "concerned" but said given that Johnson didn’t come to camp in tip-top shape, "it is not a big surprise."

* Three guys who have been behind/sidelined/slowed are throwing bullpens in just a couple of minutes — Clement, Pineiro and Wasdin. Updates later today.

* Joe Mather gets another start. It’s hard to know just how seriously he’s being taken, but TLR explained that his RH-ness helps him get a few extra looks that a guy like Haerther isn’t getting. Mather also has some versatility that some of the other OFs have.

-M.

Tyler Johnson scratched

Tyler has "tightness and weakness" in his left shoulder, per Barry Weinberg. He was scratched from a scheduled appearance today, after his warmup throw didn’t go very well. Will undergo an MRI on Monday. More to come on the site later this afternoon.

-M.

Opening Day roster projection, third guess

Let’s make this a weekly thing on Saturdays…

Starting pitchers (5)
Adam Wainwright
Joel Pineiro
Braden Looper
Anthony Reyes
Todd Wellemeyer

Relief pitchers (7)
Jason Isringhausen
Russ Springer
Ryan Franklin
Brad Thompson
Randy Flores
Tyler Johnson
Ron Villone

Infielders (6)
Albert Pujols
Adam Kennedy
Cesar Izturis
Troy Glaus
Aaron Miles
Brendan Ryan

Outfielders (5)
Rick Ankiel
Chris Duncan
Ryan Ludwick
Skip Schumaker
Juan Gonzalez

Catchers (2)
Yadier Molina
Jason LaRue

Discuss…
-M.

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