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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals passing up comp draft picks

In yesterday’s post, I highlighted the diminishing quantity of extra draft picks awarded the St. Louis Cardinals over the last five seasons. The total decreased by one each year, starting with their most recent high-water mark of four in the 2005 draft to the point they had none in 2009.

While the analysis showed the take in terms of results from the players selected with the extra picks were uneven and perhaps less than from the club’s regular selections in the same rounds, there is no dispute having more top players offers greater trading flexibility.

This article will look at compensation picks for which the Cardinals were eligible since 2005 and the ones they actually received, good for use in the following June’s First-Year Player Draft.

Some background first. Here we are discussing veteran (six or more years of MLB service time) free agents for whom a club has the right to offer arbitration on a one-year contract. The player has the right to accept or decline that offer.

A very high percentage of the time when offered, it is declined. Yet if offered, there is always the chance the player could accept. That would tie player and team together for another season at market price.

If the team declines to offer, then the player can sign anywhere without penalty. If the club offers and a player in the top 40 percent of his peers declines, the organization is entitled to draft pick compensation if that player agrees to terms with another team.

This latter case is our focus. Though I am not going to get into the details here, based on their performance, all players are ranked yearly into either the top 20 percent (Type A), second 20 percent (Type B) or the rest (no compensation).

The former club of a Type A free agent that was offered arbitration but declined receives two compensatory picks in the upcoming June draft when the player signs with a new team. One pick is an extra pick, called a “sandwich pick” added to the end of the first round and prior to the second, a period called the supplemental round. The other pick is taken from the new team and given to the old team, usually their first- or second-rounder.

A Type B player offered arbitration would fetch a sandwich pick only, meaning there is no real penalty to the signing team for having added the free agent.

There is another wrinkle. If an arbitration-eligible player signs with a new team before the December due date for the old team to offer arbitration, the old team receives the appropriate picks just as if they had offered the player later on.

(To be more complete, another way to secure an extra pick is in compensation for an unsigned player from the first three rounds of the previous draft. That case does not apply here.)

Ok, without further ado, here are the 17 Cardinals Type A (two picks in compensation) and Type B (one pick) free agents from the last four off-seasons.

FA Draft Player Potential Picks gained Picks gained
picks lost signed early offered arbitration
2008 2009 Russ Springer 2
Jason Isringhausen 1
Braden Looper 1
2007 2008 David Eckstein 1
Troy Percival 1
2006 2007 Jeff Suppan 2
Ronnie Belliard 2
Jeff Weaver 1
Jason Marquis 1
Preston Wilson 1
2005 2006 Matt Morris 2
Abraham Nunez 1
Mark Grudzielanek 2
Al Reyes 2
Julian Tavarez 2
Reggie Sanders 1
John Mabry 1
Four-year total 18 2 4

The 17 players represent a maximum of 24 possible draft picks. Only six of those compensatory picks, or one-fourth of them, were actually received by the Cardinals, having been collected from four of the 17 players. The Cards declined to offer arbitration to the other 13.

Even if the Cardinals had wanted to capture the maximum number of picks possible, some of the players might have accepted their offer and remained with the team. In that case, the club would not have received compensatory selections for those players and potentially been stuck with players they did not want.

In several other cases, however, the Cardinals left almost sure picks on the table by not offering arbitration for a player obviously leaving. This is consistent with the organization’s stated philosophy of not offering players unless they were wanted to return.

A prime example was former starting pitcher Jason Marquis. There seemed no way Marquis would have accepted an arbitration offer to return to the Cardinals for 2007 after the problems that culminated in him being left off the 2006 playoff rosters. The sandwich pick the Cardinals would have received had they offered and Marquis not accepted would have been a “free” one, not taken away from the signing team (the Cubs, who signed him for three years, $21 million).

In other cases, the Cardinals may have avoided offering a marginal Type A player because it would have diminished his value in the open market. A possible example is Ronnie Belliard. After having joined the Cardinals late in the 2006 season, the second baseman was declared a Type A. Few if any clubs would have forfeited their first or second-round pick in the 2007 draft just to sign a role player like Belliard.

Finally, there were a few players the Cardinals probably should have offered in the hope the player would accept and remain with the club. A glaring example is right-handed reliever Russ Springer (pictured). Despite having been very effective out of the pen during the prior two seasons, Springer was told prior to 2009 that the Cardinals wanted to get younger. 12 months later, one of the team’s reported priorities is to acquire – you guessed it – another veteran righty for the pen.

In two of the four cases in which they received comp picks, the Cardinals had no control over receiving those selections. Both Al Reyes (2005) and Troy Percival (2007) signed with their new clubs early. That gave the Cardinals two picks, whether they wanted them or not.

We know for sure only that the Cardinals wanted two of the 17 to come back, Matt Morris (2005) and Jeff Suppan (2006). In other words, they were the only two actually offered arbitration and each declined. When the two signed with San Francisco and Milwaukee respectively, St. Louis was awarded a total of four picks.

The Elias Rankings which define the Type status of all players, including free agents, are traditionally released near the end of the World Series. At that point, we will know what compensation, if any, the Cardinals’ nine 2009-2010 free agents may fetch – but only if they sign elsewhere early or arbitration is offered, that is.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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