The deadline to tender contracts to unsigned players under team control is tonight at 7 p.m. CT. All Major League players who have not been signed by the deadline will become free agents.
The Cardinals have four players they have to make decisions on before Friday night. All four, Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha, Dominic Leone and Chasen Shreve, are arbitration eligible. This will be Ozuna and Wacha’s last season of eligibility for arbitration, while it is Leone and Shreve’s first.
Obviously, the Cardinals are going to resign Ozuna. They gave up too much last offseason to just let him walk after a year. However, they likely won’t sign him to a multiyear deal. It’s more likely they will get a date set to have his contract arbitrated.
The main reason the Redbirds will go this route is that they have a good case to win the case. Ozuna underperformed last season compared to 2017. That year he hit .312 with 37 home runs, 124 RBI and had an OPS of .924. This past season, he was serviceable but didn’t come near those numbers. For the 2018 season, he hit .280 with 23 home runs, 88 RBI and a .758 OPS. He also had won a Gold Glove in 2017, whereas in 2018 his defense was average at best.
That all means that should the Cardinals take him to an arbitration hearing, his contract won’t likely go up for the 2019 season. In fact, he could even see a slight decrease in pay based on his decline in performance.
Wacha is another guy the Cardinals will probably take through the arbitration process. There isn’t much benefit of letting him go unsigned and he still hasn’t proved he’s worth a multiyear deal. Had he been healthy and productive for all of 2018 he may have gotten a decent payday from the Cardinals, but that wasn’t the case.
Like in two of his previous four seasons, Wacha lost much of 2018 to injury. He was pitching well when he was still healthy, but he was eventually shut down after just 15 starts. The year prior he did make 30 starts, but his numbers weren’t the best at 12-9 with a 4.12 ERA in just 165.2 innings. He did see a pay raise through arbitration after that season though, because in the previous one, 2016 he only made 24 starts and had an ERA of 5.09.
Wacha’s 2018 salary was $5.3 million, set by an arbitration panel after the 2017 season. If the Cardinals do go that route again, which they undoubtedly will, he likely won’t get much more than that for 2019. After that 2017 season, Wacha was awarded a raise that nearly doubled his annual earnings, but that followed a jump in performance. Like Ozuna though, Wacha declined this season, meaning the panel is more at odds to side with the Cardinals and he won’t be looking at a very big pay increase.
The remaining two players raise more questions than the first two, starting with Dominic Leone. He was brought over in a trade with Toronto last offseason to help solidify the Redbirds’ pen. Unfortunately, he wasn’t healthy all year and when he was, he wasn’t very effective.
With all the unknowns in the Cards pen, it is likely that they will want to bring Leone back for at least one more year. If they are confident in his health, they almost assuredly will too. It’s also assured that they will take him, like Ozuna and Wacha, through the arbitration process.
After the year he had, the Cardinals should win the case and be able to bring him back for next to nothing. In 2018 he made just over $1 million and an arbitration panel won’t decide on a number any higher than that for his 2019 salary.
It is well known that the Cardinals are in search of left-handed help for the bullpen. They tried to solve that problem during the 2018 season, in trading for Chasen Shreve, but he just wasn’t quite what they were looking for. What they need is a dominant lefty, where Shreve is more of a serviceable lefty.
Although he’s arbitration eligible and there is a need for left-handed pitching in St. Louis, the Cards probably won’t tender Shreve or offer him arbitration. They have other internal options that are just as good and are already under contract for 2019.
Featured Image by Ryan Michalesko of St. Louis Post Dispatch