Cardinals arbitration history – 1974-2008

As I noted earlier in the week, the St. Louis Cardinals are heading toward arbitration hearings with Rick Ankiel (February 12) and Ryan Ludwick (February 17) to settle on one-year salary amounts for each player for the 2009 season.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the club’s arbitration record since the process began. While most who watch this area may be familiar with the fact that the club last went to hearing in 1999, when they defeated pitcher Darren Oliver and his agent Scott Boras, the Cardinals’ history in arbitration goes back much farther.

Fortunately, the late Doug Pappas, long-time chairman of SABR’s Business of Baseball Committee, kept detailed hearing records all the way back to 1974. The basics of what follows is sourced from his work.

Since the process began, there have been almost 500 arbitration hearings across MLB. Of course, many more players filed, but came to terms prior to the actual date. As one of 30 clubs now (though there were fewer teams back in 1974) one might expect the Cardinals to have had no more than about 3% of the cases. That is the approximate actual number, 15. The club’s record against players is very close to the overall MLB historical mark, around 60%.

Through 2008 Hearings Club win Player win % club win
MLB 484 279 205 58%
Cardinals 15 9 6 60%
StL percent of MLB 3.1% 3.2% 2.9%

However, most of these Cardinals cases were held during the 1980s, nine of the 15 to be precise. Five more followed in the 1990s, but four of them occurred prior to 1995. Since then, there has been just one, Oliver.

Cardinals cases Hearings Club win Player win % club win
1970’s 1 0 1 0%
1980’s 9 6 3 67%
1990’s 5 3 2 60%
2000’s 0 0 0 NA

Gregg Jefferies: Last to beat the Cards in arbitration (Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)
Gregg Jefferies: Last to beat the Cards in arbitration (Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)

Ironically, the busiest year for the club was at the end of the boom. In 1994, three players went to arbitration, with the club going 2-1. They lost to first baseman Gregg Jefferies (pictured) and defeated starter Bob Tewksbury and third baseman Todd Zeile. As a result, Jefferies holds the distinction of having been the last player to defeat the Cardinals in a hearing.

And here we sit today, with two players heading toward a showdown with the club over their 2009 salary amounts. The Cardinals could double their total number of hearings in the last 15 years over the span of just six days later this month.

Below are the detailed hearing results, offering a most interesting view of how salaries have risen over the years.

As you will see, some of the most prominent stars of the club during the 1980s and early 1990’s participated in the process – Ozzie Smith, Danny Cox, Jose Oquendo, Vince Coleman and Terry Pendleton among them.

Having just returned to the Cards from the Mets in the Joe Torre trade, pitcher Ray Sadecki was the first-ever case for the club back in 1975. On one hand, the difference between the two sides was just $5,000. On the other hand, it was about 10% of the player’s salary – an amount worth fighting for. The left-hander was traded to Atlanta just three months after winning his case.

In the table, I added to Pappas’ base data the date when each player last suited up for the Cardinals and how he left. There were rumors that some owners did not take kindly to players fighting them over salary. If only the arbitration process had existed in 1972, another lefty, Steve Carlton, might have become a Hall of Famer as a Cardinal instead of as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

I include that information not because there is any proven correlation between an arbitration case and the player leaving St. Louis.

Yet do pay special attention to the timing of trade activity, especially in the early years of arbitration. Four of the first five players that took the Cardinals to arbitration didn’t even last through that season before having to pack their bags. Later, the players exerted their financial independence via free agency.

Even as trade rumors swirled around both Ludwick and Ankiel this winter, this data is offered as an interesting conversation piece about which to speculate over what might have been.

Year Player* Club* Club win Player win % club win Left StL Reason
1975 Ray Sadecki 52 47 X May-75 traded
1980 Will McEnaney 125 65 X Mar-80 released
1981 Tony Scott 225 180 X Jun-81 traded
1982 Ozzie Smith 750 450 X Sep-96 retired
1983 Doug Bair 450 325 X Jun-83 traded
1983 Lonnie Smith 580 500 X May-85 traded
1986 Ricky Horton 275 215 X Feb-88 traded
1987 Danny Cox 875 600 X Oct-90 free agent
1988 Jose Oquendo 360 275 X Sep-95 retired
1989 Vince Coleman 950 775 X Nov-90 free agent
1990 Terry Pendleton 1850 1000 X Nov-90 free agent
1994 Gregg Jefferies 4600 3700 X Oct-94 free agent
1994 Bob Tewksbury 4500 3500 X Oct-94 free agent
1994 Todd Zeile 3250 2700 X Jun-95 traded
1999 Darren Oliver 4150 3550 X Oct-99 free agent
total 9 6 60%
2009 Rick Ankiel 3300 2350
2009 Ryan Ludwick 4250 2800
* amounts in $K

February 2013 update: “Can Freese learn from the Cardinals’ 2009 arbitration cases?”