Cardinals prepare for free agency

Free agency has technically begun, but it’s not yet open season on them. Players have until Tuesday to negotiate exclusively with their former clubs. Then they hit the open market and can talk to any teams.

The biggest news of the Cardinals’ free agency moves is that the team has exercised the $7 million option to bring back catcher Yadier Molina to the Cardinals next season. Molina, 29, is coming off of his best offensive season. He hit .305 with 14 HR, 65 RBI, and 55 runs scored, all career highs. He also tied a major league record with 9 RBI in a World Series.

While his offense surged, his defense stumbled a bit as he only posted a +0.7 defensive WAR. His career average for dWAR is around a +1.3. He also recorded a +6 runs saved measurement, down from the +16 he saved just last year. While the addition of Gerald Laird to the team was meant to give Molina more time off behind the plate, he still recorded 1,100+ innings behind the plate for the third consecutive year.

Two options remain on the table for the Cardinals to decide. That would be the $12 million option on shortstop Rafael Furcal and a $3.5 million option on relief pitcher Octavio Dotel.

Elias also released their official player rankings that determine compensatory draft picks for free agents. There is no surprise atop that list for the Cardinals.

Albert Pujols received the second highest score, a 95.200 (just shy of C.C. Sabathia), and will be a Type A free agent. Pujols, 31, is coming off a season where he struggled early. His final numbers, .299 batting average, 37 HR, and 99 RBI were just short of keeping his amazing streak of .300-30-100 alive. He posted career lows or near career lows in every category, and yet he’s still the second best free agent on the market, according to Elias. That speaks to the type of player he is and has been.

Joining Albert on the Type A free agent list is Octavio Dotel, on who the Cardinals possess an option. Dotel, 37, posted one of his better halves of a season after being dealt in his career. Finishing his 13th season, Dotel has been traded during the season five times since the 2004 season. Since he came to the Cardinals in exchange for Colby Rasmus, Dotel posted a 3.28 ERA in 24.2 innings and proved to be a stabilizing force in the St. Louis bullpen down the stretch and into the playoffs. His 0.851 WHIP was the lowest of his runs with any team where he pitched more than 10 innings.

On the Type B free agent list the Cardinals have three pending free agents.

The first is Edwin Jackson. Jackson, 28, may have earned himself a big contract with his run down the stretch with St. Louis. In 12 starts for the Cardinals, he posted a 3.58 ERA and a 5-2 record. Down the stretch he was the second best pitcher to Chris Carpenter. He credited Dave Duncan for helping him put all his stuff together during his time with St. Louis. He should be a better pitcher for it as long as he can retain that mindset. With no room in the starting rotation for him, Jackson will be hitting the road with a World Series ring as thanks for the help.

The second is the veteran Arthur Rhodes. At 42, Rhodes has been all over baseball. He posted a 4.85 ERA in 8.2 innings with St. Louis after being released by the Texas Rangers. He also allowed just 1 walk in 8 postseason appearances this season. Rhodes recently said that he was interested in playing two more seasons.

The final free agent on the list is Rafael Furcal. Furcal, 34, is the oft-injured shortstop that the Cardinals traded for at the deadline to shore up their middle infield. Furcal, however, hit just .255 in 50 games with the Cardinals and finished that up by hitting just .195 for the Cardinals in the playoffs. With the premium that it appears teams are willing to pay quality defenders in the middle infield, if Furcal can prove that he is healthy, he could be looking for a decent payday from a team willing to take the chance.

But what does Type A versus Type B versus a regular free agent mean?

In each case a free agent player can be offered arbitration by their ball club. What this does is gives them an opportunity to work together through an arbitrator to determine a fair salary for a player on a one-year deal to return to the club. To qualify for compensatory draft picks, a player has to be offered arbitration by their former club and turn it down to sign with another team.

For a Type A player, if he turns down arbitration to sign with another team, his former team will receive two draft picks, one from the other team and one compensatory “sandwich” pick between the first and second rounds of next season’s Major League Baseball draft.

For a Type B player, if he turns down arbitration to sign with another team, his former team receives one compensatory “sandwich” pick.

I expect the Cardinals to resign Pujols once they agree to a fair market value due to offers from other teams. I expect them to pick up the option of Octavio Dotel and decline the option on Rafael Furcal.

Arbitration will likely be offered to Jackson, Rhodes, and Furcal. The Cardinals can safely assume that Jackson will decline the arbitration offer because he will want to start and the Cardinals already have 5 starters signed for next season. Rafael Furcal may accept, but with his history of injury should come at a discount for the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Arthur Rhodes may accept arbitration and he could get anywhere from $2-4 million.

Now you are prepared as the Cardinals begin to navigate the craziness known as free agency. Not to mention, they’ll have to find a manager too, but more on that coming later today.

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