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As deadline nears, Axford unlikely to be tendered

Offers expected for Bourjos, Jay, Descalso, but reliever appears headed for free agency

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals entered the offseason with six arbitration-eligible players. Two -- David Freese, Fernando Salas -- have since been traded. Another (Rob Johnson ) was taken off the 40-man roster last month. They added one with the acquisition of Peter Bourjos in last month's trade.

That leaves the Cardinals with a total of four tender decisions, all of which must be made by Monday's 10:59 pm CT deadline. Outfielder Jon Jay, infielder Daniel Descalso and Bourjos are arbitration-eligible for the first time. Reliever John Axford is in his second year of arbitration eligibility.

Though neither Jay nor Descalso is currently projected to be an everyday player in 2014, the Cardinals are expected to tender contracts to both. Jay, who earned $524,000 in 2013, will see a steeper raise than Descalso ($511,000 in '13) because he has been the team's starting center fielder for the past three seasons. Bourjos is a given to be offered a contract, too.

While it is a mere formality for the Cards to tender contracts to those three, Axford sits in a different position. Because he earned closer's money ($5 million) in 2013, he is not expected to be tendered a contract by the Cardinals. A player's salary cannot decrease by more than 20 percent through the arbitration process, meaning that Axford would be guaranteed a minimum of $4 million if the Cards opt to take him through the arbitration process.

Though the Cardinals do not have interest in offering the 30-year-old right-hander that salary figure, the door has not been entirely closed on his potential return to St. Louis. Once a player is non-tendered, he becomes a free agent, free to negotiate with any of baseball's 30 clubs. That includes the team that chose not to tender a contract. Through this negotiation process, there are no parameters for a minimum offer.

Once a contract is tendered, the two sides then have the task of trying to come to an agreement on, at minimum, a one-year contract for 2014. A multiyear deal can also be negotiated, as it was for Jason Motte a year ago.

Players who have been tendered contracts but have not yet come to an agreement with a club by Jan. 17 will exchange desired salary figures with the team on that date. If negotiations continue to be unsuccessful, an arbitration hearing will be scheduled in February. If such a hearing is needed, an independent party makes a final, binding decision on a one-year salary figure.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.

St. Louis Cardinals, John Axford, Peter Bourjos, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay