the cardinals entered the off-season knowing that one of the consequences of the improved youth movement in recent seasons came with a reckoning. this year, five players would be arbitration eligible.
of those five, mitchell boggs and edward mujica signed deals in lieu of arbitration before they had to announce their salary demands or the club had to announce its starting point on salary.
then, this week, jason motte signed a pricey (and probably club-unfriendly) deal with the club for $12m to buy out two years of arbitration.
to give a brief overview of why that deal was a little bizarre, one has to take a look at the underpinnings of the arbitration process. in the wake of the demise of permanent reserve clauses in baseball, the owners settled on a new program of club control. obviously, a scheme where all players are free agents would be bad for everyone. if clubs had no control over players in their systems, they'd have no incentive to run large, expensive farm systems. allowing some measure of club control provides adequate incentive for clubs to run player development programs.
currently, players are under club control for the first six seasons in the majors. for three years, they are entitled to nothing more than the league minimum (which, at $500,000, is generous relative to the general population, but far less than most players would earn if they were free agents).
for the fourth, fifth, and sixth years, they are entitled to salary enhancements set by an arbitrator. the arbitrator is not taxed with giving the player a salary comparable to what he would earn as a free agent. instead, in a player's fourth year, the arbitrator typically awards about 40% of what the player would earn as a free agent; in the fifth year, 60% of what he would earn as a free agent; and in the sixth, roughly 80% of what the player would earn as a free agent.
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