It has been widely repeated that the St. Louis Cardinals have not participated in an arbitration hearing since 1999. At that time, they faced off against pitcher Darren Oliver over $600,000 and won. The arbiters are bound to select either the player’s number or the team’s other, with no compromise. Oliver – who is still in the majors 14 years later – had to accept $3.55 million in salary. The left-hander departed as a free agent following the 1999 season.
Just because the Cardinals have not appeared in front of an arbitration panel since then, it does not mean they have not come very close. In fact, a decade later, in 2009, the club had two cases literally come down to the wire – with outfielders Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick.
Beyond the cash itself, one reason this matters is the disruption and time spent. Even though neither the Cardinals nor the players actually presented in 2009, they still had to fully prepare for the hearing as if they would.
In the case of Ankiel, the parties had already traveled to Arizona and ended up settling just hours before the scheduled hearing. Ludwick and the Cards came to terms the day before their appointment with the arbiters, scheduled five days after Ankiel.
In 2009, Ankiel was in his third and final arbitration-eligible season. In terms of contract expectations, he and the Cards were initially separated by just under $1 million. After settling at the exact midpoint between his submission and that of the club, Ankiel played out his final year as a Cardinal and became a free agent that fall.
Ludwick’s 2009 case is closer to David Freese’s current situation in that both players were/are in their first year of arbitration eligibility. An important comparison point is to those of similar experience levels.
Another interesting fact is the size of the gulf between player and club. Ludwick’s gap in 2009 was $1.45 million, similar to the current Freese delta of $1.35 million.
While Ludwick was not a World Series hero like Freese, he had superior numbers on his side. Ludwick was coming off a breakout offensive season in 2008, during which he hit 37 home runs, drove in 113 and batted .299.
As noted above, the very day before the hearing, the Cardinals and Ludwick settled -for an amount that was $175,000 over the midpoint. The outfielder also received the opportunity to earn an additional $100,000 in plate appearance incentives, which he later did not achieve. Despite a stated goal of 50 home runs, Ludwick dropped off to 22 during the 2009 season.
The next year, Ludwick and the Cards settled earlier – in January – at $5.45 million. St. Louis did not end up paying that entire amount, however. At the end of July 2010, Ludwick was traded to San Diego in the three-team deal that netted the Cardinals Jake Westbrook from Cleveland.
What does this mean for Freese? Perhaps nothing.
At this point, his exact hearing date has not been disclosed, but could be as late as February 21. I have been told that there is some secrecy in that MLB does not like to let the arbitrators know ahead of time which players will be involved in their cases. Apparently, the arbitrators are given a schedule of hearings but the players’ names are not included.
I would guess that both sides – Freese and the Cardinals – would be relieved if a deal is struck soon. If that does not occur and they have to finish readying their respective cases, perhaps they could at least come to agreement before having to travel to the Valley of the Sun. One would think they would prefer to be preparing for the 2013 season in Florida, instead.
Then again, if one side or the other has dug in its heels, this could be the time the Cardinals’ 13-year non-hearing record falls.
|Year||Arb yr||Player||Club||Difference||Midpoint||Hearing date||Agreement||Contract||Vs. mid||Bonus|
|Rick Ankiel||2009||third||$3.3 MM||$2.35 MM||$950 K||$2.825 MM||2/12/2009||2/12/2009||$2.825 MM||=|
|Ryan Ludwick||2009||first||$4.25 MM||$2.8 MM||$1.45 MM||$3.525 MM||2/17/2009||2/16/2009||$3.7 MM||+$175 K||$100 K|
|David Freese||2012||first||$3.75 MM||$2.4 MM||$1.35 MM||$3.075 MM|
Additional background information: In 2009, I presented the entire arbitration history of the Cardinals, which dates back to 1974, here. While there have been additional hearings across MLB since, the log of the Cardinals cases remains complete – as of now.