Ludwick agrees: Cardinals arbitration scorecard complete

With the announcement on Monday that the St. Louis Cardinals came to an agreement with All-Star outfielder Ryan Ludwick on a one-year contract for the upcoming season, the book is now closed on the club’s 2009 arbitration eligible-cases.

The 30-year-old Ludwick was last of five eligible Cardinals players with from just under three to five-plus years of service time to settle, and in the process of doing so, avoided a salary arbitration hearing set for Tuesday in Phoenix, AZ. Outfielders Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan plus pitchers Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer all previously agreed to terms.

Ludwick’s new deal is for a reported $3.7 million, slightly above the midpoint between the Cardinals’ original offer of $2.8 million and the player’s $4.25 million filing. Ludwick can earn up to an additional $100,000 in incentives based on plate appearances. He can receive $25,000 at 625, another $25,000 at 650 and another $50,000 if he reaches 675.

Making just $421,000 last season, Ludwick’s increase represents a 779% bump over that 2008 take, by far the largest absolute as well as percentage increase among the five.

This was Ludwick’s first year through the process leading up to arbitration and unless he signs a long-term contract first, he could be in a similar place in each of the next two off-seasons. Ludwick will become eligible for free agency for the first time after the 2011 campaign.

The Cardinals avoid hearings if at all possible and have been pretty good at it recently. Their last salary arbitration hearing was held in 1999.

With that, following is a summary of how the Cardinals 2009 arbitration-eligible cases came out. For all intents and purposes, the players always win. The only real suspense is the amounts of their increases.

Only two players, Ankiel and Ludwick, progressed as far as exchanging figures with the club and having hearings scheduled. Wellemeyer and Duncan came to terms on January 19 and Thompson settled the very next day. Just three hours prior to his scheduled hearing last Thursday, Ankiel and the Cardinals also shook hands on a 2009 contract.

In total, the Cardinals will be paying $12,050,000 for the service of these five players this season, up from just $3,449,000 in 2008. My forecast was high at $13,750,000 primarily due to overshooting on Duncan’s and Thompson’s very modest contracts.

2008 2009 estimate Player Club 2009 actual Increase %
Ankiel $0.975 million $3.25 million $3.3 million $2.35 million $2.825 million 190%
Duncan $0.439 million $1.5 million $0.825 million 188%
Ludwick $0.421 million $4.0 million $4.25 million $2.8 million $3.700 million+ 779%
Thompson $0.414 million $1.0 million $0.650 million 57%
Wellemeyer $1.2 million $4.0 million $4.050 million 338%
Total $3.449 million $13.75 million $12.050 million
+ $100K incentives

Any debate over 2009 contracts for members of the Cardinals roster is now officially over. The only other players still unsigned are those with less than three years service time as major leaguers.

That group is obligated to accept whatever amount they are tendered by the club as long as the “offer” exceeds the minimum salary of $400,000 and is at least 80% of the amount earned in the previous season. The players choice is either to accept or not play, yet if they stick around, they too will become eligible for arbitration soon enough.

Look for those business-as-usual announcements early next month.