Matt Swartz has developed a very accurate model that MLBTR uses to project arbitration salaries, as explained in this series of posts. We've heard from many MLB teams and agencies that reference the projections in their work. The Cardinals are next in our series. Estimated service time is in parentheses, and estimated 2014 salary follows.
- John Axford (3.170): $5.7MM
- David Freese (4.028): $4.4MM
- Jon Jay (3.134): $3.4MM
- Daniel Descalso (3.016): $1.2MM
- Fernando Salas (3.014): $700K
The Cardinals added Axford in a late August trade with the Brewers, and the 30-year-old righty did a nice job in 10 1/3 regular season innings for St. Louis, picking up another 5 2/3 innings in the postseason. He recorded 19 holds this year, after amassing 106 saves previously in his career. Saves pay well in arbitration, getting Axford a $5MM salary his first time through. Axford would be useful to pencil into next year's pen, with Edward Mujica up for free agency and a decent-sized contract and Carlos Martinez being considered for the rotation. However, Axford's projected arbitration cost is a little steep, making a non-tender likely if the Cardinals are not able to find a team willing to take him on in trade.
Freese represents a tougher decision. The MVP of the 2011 postseason, Freese hit .262/.340/.381 in 521 regular season plate appearances this year and .179/.258/.268 in the playoffs. He was quite good as recently as 2012, and to non-tender him seems drastic given a $4.4MM salary projection. If Freese stays with the Cardinals, it seems likely the presence of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong will affect his playing time. The Cards could also trade Freese this offseason.
The Cardinals are a team with few deficiencies, but center field is another potential area of upgrade. Jay, 29 in March, hit .276/.351/.370 in 628 plate appearances. At the least, he remains a useful player at $3.4MM. Jay's situation is similar to Freese: a non-tender seems unlikely, a trade is possible, and he may be pushed for playing time if he stays with St. Louis. Descalso, meanwhile, seems likely to have a utility role on next year's club.
Salas, 29 in May, was the Cardinals' surprise closer for much of 2011, but spent time in the minors in 2012. This year, he battled a shoulder injury and bounced up and down from Triple-A. With a projected salary under a million bucks, the Cardinals might be able to find a taker in a trade if Salas is not part of their plans for 2014.
Assuming the Cardinals tender contracts to Freese, Jay, Descalso, and Salas, they're looking at an estimated $9.7MM for four arbitration eligible players.