ST. LOUIS -- With seven players qualifying for arbitration this winter, the Cardinals must decide by 10:59 p.m. CT on Wednesday whether to tender a contract to each.
Some decisions are obvious, as is the case for first-time eligible players Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Matt Adams. Others will be less so because of either fit or potential salary obligations. Remember that when tendering a contract to arbitration-eligible players, the Cardinals are agreeing to commit at least a one-year deal to that player, with the possibility that an arbitration panel determines the value of that contract.
While there are still many more weeks to negotiate deals independent of an arbiter, here is a look at each of the team's arbitration-eligible players, their cases and factors for the Cardinals to consider:
OF/1B Brandon Moss: Arbitration-eligible for the third time, Moss is an interesting case for the Cards. The organization was willing to part with young pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky to land Moss at the non-waiver Trade Deadline because it knew Moss was also under team control for 2016. But his impact was limited with St. Louis, and Moss is going to see a raise from the $6.5 million he made in 2015, even though he doesn't have a defined role with the team next year. Nevertheless, the Cards seem likely to tender Moss a contract. For a team searching for offense, Moss has as much power potential as anyone on the Major League roster.
OF Peter Bourjos: Bourjos, also a third-time arbitration-eligible player, doesn't have an obvious fit on the Cardinals' 2016 roster. He hasn't found traction with the team since being acquired in November '13, and St. Louis has a glut of outfielders already. It's likely the Cardinals will try to trade Bourjos instead of letting him loose for nothing. If they're unable to, Bourjos, who made $1.65 million in 2015, is a strong non-tender candidate.
RHP Steve Cishek: Cishek, like Moss, came to the Cardinals as part of a non-waiver Trade Deadline move. However, he is coming off a season plagued by control problems and one that included him making $6.65 million. His salary escalated so substantially each of the last two offseasons because he was closing for the Marlins. The Cardinals will not commit those sorts of dollars to a middle reliever. While they may engage in negotiations for a lesser deal, the Cards will not get locked into the arbitration process with Cishek.
C Tony Cruz: Cruz's standing changed dramatically upon Monday's announcement that the Cardinals had signed Brayan Pena to serve as a backup catcher to Yadier Molina. The addition squeezes Cruz out of a role with the Cardinals. General manager John Mozeliak, while discussing the addition of Pena, noted that he will be seeking to trade Cruz before Wednesday's non-tender deadline. If nothing comes to fruition, Cruz, who was Molina's primary backup for the last four years, is expected to be non-tendered.
RHP Rosenthal: Of anyone on this list, Rosenthal, the team's closer, will see the most substantial percentage increase in salary this winter. He earned just over the Major League minimum while saving a franchise-record 48 games in 2015. He has consecutive 45-save seasons, and relievers with high save totals do well in the arbitration process. The Cardinals have been preparing for the salary spike, and Rosenthal fits the mold as a player the Cards may consider signing to a multiyear deal this offseason.
1B Adams: Though he's unlikely to open the season as the team's starting first baseman, Adams is expected to be tendered a contract. Instead of coming off a second straight season as an everyday player, Adams is on the heels of a 2015 campaign in which he was limited to 60 games due to injury. Even if he is a backup option in '16, he'll be an asset for the Cards.
RHP Maness: Maness was one of manager Mike Matheny's most trusted relievers again in 2015, and he remains a part of the organization's future. He qualified for arbitration as a Super Two player, meaning he'll get four years of arbitration-eligibility as opposed to the usual three. He will be tendered a contract and will likely return to a key bullpen role in 2016.