ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals offered salary arbitration to only two of their remaining seven free agents by Friday night's deadline, though the decision doesn't carry the same weight it did in previous years.
St. Louis offered arbitration to starting pitchers Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan, while declining to offer to pitchers Jason Marquis and Jeff Weaver, infielders Ronnie Belliard and Jose Vizcaino and outfielder Preston Wilson. Under the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cardinals still do not forfeit the right to negotiate with any of the free agents at any point, whether they were offered arbitration or not.
Of the various decisions, the only one that could be considered at all a surprise was Weaver. The right-hander remains very much on the Cardinals' radar, and there seems to be a decent chance he will receive more than a one-year offer somewhere. Weaver received $8.325 million in base salary in 2006, a number that may have scared the Cards off for a 2007 arbitration hearing.
Suppan seems highly unlikely to accept arbitration, given that he is believed to be mulling offers of as long as four years. However, he has definitely not ruled out a return to St. Louis. His agent, Scott Leventhal, has had "amicable discussions" with the Cardinals.
"[Suppan] and Dana would love nothing more than to return to St. Louis and to be a part of the continuing success of this organization," Leventhal said on Friday.
Mulder may be more likely to accept arbitration. Following late-season shoulder surgery, he may be looking at primarily one-year opportunities as it is. Thus, a chance to return to a team that knows him for a year, at no less than 80 percent of his $7.75 million 2006 salary, might be tempting.
Belliard, acquired from Cleveland in August, became expendable when the Cardinals signed second baseman Adam Kennedy to a three-year contract. Vizcaino, Wilson and Marquis were all expected to move on after the season even before the club declined to make them offers.
Mulder and Suppan have until Thursday to accept or decline arbitration. Should they accept, they are considered signed for the 2007 season. If they decline, negotiations may continue with no penalty. The primary benefit to the club of offering arbitration is draft-pick compensation. Both pitchers are considered Type A free agents. Thus, if they sign with another team, the Cardinals would receive an additional first-round pick and a "sandwich round" pick for each.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.