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What might Ludwick, Ankiel, Wellemeyer, Thompson and Duncan make via arbitration?



Back on December 10, I published my forecast on which of the eight eligible St. Louis Cardinals players would be offered a contract and which would be cut loose. The group is those who had accrued from just short of three years up to six years of Major League service time and are not already under contract for 2009.

I was correct on six of the eight, but missed on Aaron Miles and Tyler Johnson, both of whom were non-tendered by the organization. Randy Flores was also cut loose as expected. Miles signed with the Chicago Cubs last week while Johnson and Flores are free agents.

Arbitration-eligibles Pos Service Prediction Actual
Ankiel, Rick OF 5.033 Offer Offer
Duncan, Chris OF 2.144 Offer Offer
Flores, Randy LHR 4.130 Non tender Non tender
Johnson, Tyler LHR 3.005 Offer Non tender
Ludwick, Ryan OF 3.109 Offer Offer
Miles, Aaron MI 5.027 Offer Non tender
Thompson, Brad RHR 3.110 Offer Offer
Wellemeyer, Todd RHS 5.009 Offer Offer

What’s up now?

For the five Cardinals players remaining, the next window of opportunity began on Monday, January 5. Starting then, these eligible players have ten days to declare their intent to head toward arbitration.

While you may read a lot of hoopla about this filing period, it is merely a formality. All eligible players will certainly file, since in not doing so, they would foolishly give up their arbitration right. (Of course, they could agree to terms on a new contract at any time, which would also take them out of this process.)

What’s on deck?

The next milestone is far more important, as those players who choose to prepare for the possibility of a hearing must exchange 2009 salary figures with their clubs on Monday, January 19.

The player offers his figure, which is almost always highest, and the club presents their amount, the lower of the two. Between then and the actual time of their February arbitration hearing, the two are encouraged to negotiate an agreed-to amount, almost always somewhere in the middle.

In every case, the player will receive a raise. The only question is how much. An important consideration is what other players of comparable results and experience have received in the past. More on that shortly.

In some situations, the sides come to agreement on a multi-year deal instead, but the formal arbitration process is structured around a one-year contract only.

An example of the former is Yadier Molina, who was arbitration-eligible one year ago. Instead of going through the entire process, on January 21st, he and the Cardinals settled on a four-year contract with a fifth option year.

If the two parties can’t come to terms, a three-person arbitration panel will choose one of the two amounts submitted, with no compromise. Supporting arguments are offered by both sides at these hearings, scheduled between February 1 and 21.

Remember that only 12% of all filed cases actually make it to a hearing and many more situations are resolved prior to the filing date. For example, last season, just eight of 110 players who filed went to a hearing, while all the other eligible players came to terms ahead of time.

Forecasting the 2009 Cardinals

So with that backdrop, let’s estimate the potential 2009 value of these five eligible players: Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer.

In every case, I will compare the Cardinals’ statistics to players at the same position who had roughly the same service time one year ago. That allows me to use the latter’s 2008 salaries to help estimate what the Cardinals’ 2009 amounts might be.

Remember that I am estimating where the two sides might settle, with the club’s filing potentially lower and the player’s desired amount likely higher. Performance bonuses are included in the Cardinals’ 2008 salaries shown below and could be a contract component for any players that settle prior to arbitration.

When service time is noted, it is listed in “years.days”, where 172 days equals one full season.


Chris Duncan

Though the oft-injured outfielder hasn’t been productive since the early part of 2007, I am comparing his career stats with five other players who were “Super Twos” one year ago. As in the case of all these comparisons, the other players’ numbers listed are their career totals prior to 2008. In other words, their stats at the time they were in the same position as Duncan is now.

Four of the comps are outfielders while the fifth, Casey Kotchman, is a first baseman, a position Duncan also plays at times.

Arb-eligible Service AB Runs SB HR RBI BA OBP SLG
Chris Duncan * 2.144 887 139 4 50 143 0.266 0.353 0.487
Matt Diaz # 2.157 774 93 9 21 89 0.320 0.357 0.473
Mark Teahen # 2.155 1384 208 30 32 184 0.274 0.340 0.429
Casey Kotchman# 2.144 764 93 6 19 111 0.267 0.341 0.415
Ryan Church # 2.152 997 126 12 35 153 0.271 0.348 0.462
Jonny Gomes # 2.160 1110 163 22 58 163 0.242 0.335 0.465
* pre-2009
# pre-2008

Duncan has demonstrated more power than all the comps, with Jonny Gomes perhaps closest. Yet the Tampa Bay outfielder is a part-timer. The two from the group that were more established starters coming into 2008 were Mark Teahen of the Royals and Ryan Church, then of the Nationals and now of the Mets.

Those two were also the only ones of the five comps who progressed in the arbitration process last year as far as exchanging amounts with their clubs, listed on the far right of the following table. They ended up with salaries in the low $2 millions, while the three others settled for less than $1.5 million last winter.

2007 Service Contract ($M) Player Club
Matt Diaz 2.157 $1.23
Mark Teahen 2.155 $2.34 $2.90 $1.90
Casey Kotchman 2.144 $1.45
Ryan Church 2.152 $2.00 $2.45 $1.75
Jonny Gomes 2.160 $1.28

Because of his injuries and the resulting uncertainty, I would place Duncan’s 2009 value somewhere around $1.5 million.


Ryan Ludwick

The 2008 All-Star and Silver Slugger winner only has two comparable outfielders from last year with between three and four years service. Therefore, I added a third player, Xavier Nady, who had just over four years coming into last season.

Arb-eligible Service AB Runs SB HR RBI BA OBP SLG
Ryan Ludwick * 3.109 1175 184 12 65 209 0.273 0.345 0.512
Brad Hawpe # 3.058 1425 197 8 63 256 0.282 0.373 0.491
Xavier Nady # 4.059 1674 210 14 62 226 0.272 0.327 0.441
Alex Rios # 3.130 2000 308 61 52 254 0.288 0.338 0.453
* pre-2009
# pre-2008

Toronto’s Alex Rios is more of a multi-tools guy with a longer track record than Ludwick. Nady is less productive than the Cardinal. Probably the best comp is Colorado’s Brad Hawpe, with a little better batting average and on-base percentage, but a bit less power.

2007 Service Contract ($M) Player Club
Brad Hawpe 3.058 $3.93 $4.35 $3.58
Xavier Nady 4.059 $3.35
Alex Rios 3.130 $4.84 $5.65 $4.54

Last year, Hawpe asked for $4.35 million heading into arbitration while the Rockies countered with $3.58 million. The two sides settled on $3.925 million. Hawpe has just one top 25 MVP placement and no All-Star or Silver Slugger-type recognition but has been more consistent over time.

Given that, somewhere around $4 million would seem a good place for Ludwick.


Rick Ankiel

As was the case last year, the uniqueness of Ankiel’s career progression means there are no rock-solid comps for him. Still, there were two MLB-5 outfielders last winter, or three if you count Casey Blake, who is primarily a third baseman but also has played the outfield extensively. For illustration, I added a fourth outfielder, Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer, who was at that time just a couple of weeks short of five years of service.

Arb-eligible Service AB Runs SB HR RBI BA OBP SLG
Rick Ankiel * 5.033 585 96 3 36 110 0.270 0.334 0.515
Juan Rivera # 5.047 1492 193 8 60 233 0.291 0.340 0.473
Craig Monroe # 5.105 2449 338 19 104 388 0.256 0.303 0.446
Casey Blake # 5.138 2768 401 29 107 366 0.262 0.332 0.444
Michael Cuddyer # 4.157 2097 320 23 72 299 0.270 0.346 0.450
* 2006-08 as OF
# pre-2008

To be fair to Ankiel, I included his hitting stats only from his time as an outfielder, excluding those from his days as a pitcher. The Cardinal’s slugging is superior to the others, while his average and on-base marks are credible in comparison to them.

In terms of counting stats in a single season, the story is different however. Two of the five have hit as many as 25 home runs as Ankiel did in 2008. That was Craig Monroe’s 28 in 2006 and Blake also with 28 back in 2004. Compared to Ankiel’s 71 RBI last season, Juan Rivera has topped him once, Monroe and Cuddyer twice each and Blake three times.

2007 Service Contract ($M) Player Club Long term
Juan Rivera 5.047 $2.03
Craig Monroe 5.105 $3.82
Casey Blake 5.138 $6.10 $6.90 $5.40
Michael Cuddyer 4.157 $5.00 $6.20 $4.70 3yr/$24M

Ankiel should be able to argue that with more at-bats, he could eclipse the counting stats generated by either Blake or Cuddyer. But that is future potential, not what has been accomplished to date.

While a look forward isn’t fair for this exercise, it is worth looking into Rivera’s situation in a bit more depth. After not quite reaching 300 at-bats in total over the past two seasons due to injury, as a free agent, he recently scored a three-year, $12.75 deal to return to the Angels. Rivera’s 2009 salary will be $3.25 million.

Monroe is currently a free agent and will make considerably less in 2009 than his $3.83 million last season, as his career is on a downward spiral.

For 2009, one might conclude that Ankiel could make as much as Rivera or Monroe, but having not completed more than a full season as an MLB outfielder, not as much as the far more established Cuddyer or Blake. Let’s call it no higher than $3.25 million, since Ankiel’s career number of at-bats remain considerably less than the others.

Of all the estimates, this could be the most volatile. Remember that Ryan Howard made $10 million as a Super Two last year after winning a hearing in which the Phillies had offered $7 million. Is Ankiel worth less than half of that?


Brad Thompson

When choosing comps for the right-handed swingman, I had 25 relievers who were MLB-3’s last year to choose from. I selected the seven who had progressed far enough in the arbitration process to exchange figures with their clubs.

Arb-eligible Service W L IP ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Brad Thompson * 3.110 18 11 305.2 4.24 4.4 2.8 1.6
Michael Wuertz # 3.007 12 6 217.2 3.56 9.9 4.5 2.2
Dave Borkowski # 3.138 13 18 310.1 5.68 7.0 3.6 1.8
Geoff Geary # 3.098 13 4 267.1 3.94 5.8 2.9 2.0
Scott Proctor # 3.010 14 10 258.1 4.18 7.3 3.8 1.9
Matt Guerrier # 3.056 3 8 248.1 3.19 5.9 2.6 2.3
Pedro Feliciano # 3.059 10 5 197.0 3.20 8.0 3.9 2.1
Vinny Chulk # 3.106 7 11 232.2 4.29 6.5 3.5 1.9
Kevin Correia # 3.027 11 14 288.0 4.03 7.0 3.8 1.8
* pre-2009
# pre-2008

It seems pretty clear that a player like Thompson should expect to make around a million dollars plus or minus. Brad’s ERA tends to the high side and his strikeouts are low, so despite his stingy walk rate, I would aim for an even $1.0 million.

2007 Service Contract ($M) Player Club
Michael Wuertz 3.007 $0.86 $0.98 $0.75
Dave Borkowski 3.138 $0.80 $1.10 $0.75
Geoff Geary 3.098 $1.13 $1.25 $0.95
Scott Proctor 3.010 $1.15 $1.30 $0.93
Matt Guerrier 3.056 $0.95 $1.15 $0.75
Pedro Feliciano 3.059 $1.03 $1.20 $0.88
Vinny Chulk 3.106 $0.84 $0.98 $0.73
Kevin Correia 3.027 $1.08 $1.30 $0.85



Todd Wellemeyer

Again, this one is a bit tricky since Wellemeyer has over three years as a reliever and less than two as a starter. Given his current role is that of a starter one year from free agency, I used that population. Unfortunately, there was but one MLB-5 starting pitching comp from last season, now-free agent Oliver Perez. I added the three MLB-4 starters from last off-season to fill out the analysis.

Arb-eligible Service W L IP ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Todd Wellemeyer* 5.009 22 19 433.2 4.42 7.1 4.4 1.6
Oliver Perez # 5.034 45 53 805.1 4.43 9.5 4.7 2.0
Nate Robertson # 4.065 42 55 832.2 4.60 6.1 3.1 2.0
Chris Capuano # 4.045 42 48 711.2 4.39 7.4 3.0 2.4
Claudio Vargas # 4.157 43 38 666.2 4.95 6.4 3.5 1.8
* pre-2009
# pre-2008

Perez is one of the eight players across MLB that actually made it to his hearing, where he defeated his employers at the time, the Mets, to the tune of $6.5 million. Yet it could be argued that Perez is more accomplished than Wellemeyer.

Of the three career starters with one fewer year of total experience, Detroit’s Nate Robertson scored a three-year deal with a $4.25 million salary the first season, while a pair of Brewers, Claudio Vargas and injured Chris Capuano, each ended up with under $4 million.

2007 Service Contract ($M) Player Club Long term
Oliver Perez 5.034 $6.50 $6.50 $4.73
Nate Robertson 4.065 $4.25 3yr/$21.25M
Chris Capuano 4.045 $3.75
Claudio Vargas 4.157 $3.60

Based on these comps, I would estimate between $3.75 million and $4.25 million for Wellemeyer for 2009, settling for the midpoint of $4.0 million.


Summary

Here are the projected differences in salaries from year-to-year for these five. Who said arbitration isn’t expensive?

2008 salary
2009 estimate Possible raise Increase %
Ankiel $0.975 million $3.25 million $2.3 million 236%
Duncan $0.439 million $1.5 million $1.061 million 241%
Ludwick $0.421 million $4.0 million $3.579 million 850%
Thompson $0.414 million $1.0 million $0.586 million 142%
Wellemeyer $1.2 million $4.0 million $2.8 million 233%
Total $3.449 million $13.75 million $10.301 million 299%

If these estimates are anywhere near correct, the Cardinals could end up committing an incremental amount of over $10 million in 2009 just to keep these five players wearing the Birds on the Bat this coming season. On the average, their raises would be just under 300%.


Several tips of the cap are offered. One is to arbitration expert Bill Gilbert, who has provided valuable consulting assistance on the process. Another is to Lee Sinins’ Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, the source for partial career data, as well as answers to a million other questions, too. Finally, a nod to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, always an invaluable resource.

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