ST. LOUIS -- While the Cardinals have been relatively quiet this offseason, there is a deadline looming and a decision to make by the end of the week.
Right-hander John Gant is the only Cardinal who is arbitration-eligible this offseason, and he has until Friday at noon CT to reach agreement with the Cards for the upcoming season or exchange salary figures that will be used in an arbitration hearing in early February.
Players with more than three but fewer than six years of service time are eligible for arbitration if they have not agreed to a contract for the upcoming season. Contracts are meant to be negotiated based on comparable players in the Majors. Friday is the deadline for players and clubs to submit their salary requests for 2020, and if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on a contract, a hearing will take place, where a panel of arbiters hears arguments from both sides and either awards the player the salary he is asking for or the one the team is offering. There’s no middle ground.
Contracts can be negotiated past Friday’s deadline, but the Cardinals view Friday as a hard deadline of sorts. In recent years, the team has adopted the “file-and-trial” approach to negotiations with arbitration-eligible players. That means that once figures are exchanged, the team stops negotiating for one-year deals and opts for the hearing. The Cards won their last arbitration hearing in 2017 with Michael Wacha; before that, St. Louis hadn’t gone to a hearing since 1999.
Arbitration is a time before free agency that players can see their salaries get significant raises, and Gant’s first year of arbitration could see that happen. The 27-year-old made $571,300 in 2019, and according to Cot’s Contracts, he is expected to make $1.9 million in '20.
Gant was outdueled by Dakota Hudson for the fifth-starter’s spot in Spring Training last year, but he ended up being one of the most vital parts of the Cardinals' bullpen, and he flirted with being a National League All-Star team candidate over the first half of the season. He was 11-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 66 1/3 innings over 64 appearances. Yet he struggled late in the year, with a 6.65 ERA in the second half, and he was left off the team’s postseason roster. Over a three-year span with the Cardinals, Gant -- who was part of the trade in 2016 that sent Jaime García to the Braves -- has a 3.64 ERA between the rotation and the bullpen.