On opposite paths, Martinez and Wacha remain unsigned following - KMOV.com

On opposite paths, Martinez and Wacha remain unsigned following arbitration-exchange deadline

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Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha still need contracts for the upcoming season, but one is in line to profit much more than the other. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha still need contracts for the upcoming season, but one is in line to profit much more than the other. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

The Cardinals agreed to terms with two of the club’s four remaining arbitration eligible players Friday, as Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist signed one-year contracts for the 2017 season; the team did not release the values of the deals.

Jon Heyman reported Rosenthal’s salary at $6.4 million, a modest increase from the $5.6 million he earned in 2016. In his first year of arbitration eligibility, Siegrist was projected for $1.9 million by MLB Trade Rumors.

Though the Cardinals plan to stretch Rosenthal out to compete in spring training as a starter–an oft-coveted role for the former closer–the team’s rotation depth will more than likely land him back in the bullpen. Whether he’s deployed again in the ninth or instead as high-leverage fireman, Rosenthal should be a significant figure for the St. Louis staff.

Siegrist–alongside newcomer Brett Cecil–should establish a formidable left-side artillery for the Cardinals bullpen. The two southpaws, Rosenthal and incumbent closer Seung-Hwan Oh combine to form a strong foundation for the Cardinals relief corps, with Friday’s signings solidifying the group.

Of greater interest than the pair who did strike deals are the two arbitration-eligible pitchers who remain unsigned for St. Louis as of Friday’s arbitration-exchange deadline. Negotiations for Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha will continue in the coming weeks, but neither was able to come to an agreement with the Cardinals before the sides had to file salary figures for potential arbitration hearings.

Though both pitchers share similar procedural situations, there is an indisputable dichotomy between their circumstances.

The two talented 25-year-old righties were All-Stars in 2015, prepared to anchor the Cardinals starting rotation for the next decade. The days since have taken them on starkly divergent paths.

While Martinez has progressed toward that bullish trajectory, Wacha has been hampered by health troubles parlayed into performance woes.

Martinez took another step forward in 2016 as measured by innings pitched, wins, WAR and WHIP; Wacha cratered in each category and saw his ERA balloon to 5.09.

Martinez welcomes 2017 as a presumptive ace looking to assert himself into Cy Young chatter; Wacha braces himself for the upcoming season without a guaranteed spot in the starting rotation.

It all relates back to why they’re both unsigned in mid-January, but for much different reasons.

Martinez enters his first year of arbitration eligibility with leverage for a big payday. Rather than proceed year-to-year through arbitration process and risk Martinez hitting the open market after the 2019 season, the Cardinals could explore a long-term extension for him right now.

MLB Trade Rumors projected Martinez to earn $5.3 million for this season, but it now appears his salary will not reach that mark. Heyman reported the Cardinals filed at $3.9 million, while Martinez filed at $4.25 million. Even without an extension, the likelihood that Martinez's case reaches arbitration is exceptionally low considering the meager difference in the filings of both sides. 

From a team perspective, locking down Martinez before the season in an extension that includes a number of post-arbitration years would obviously be enticing. For Martinez–who has earned just over $1.5 million across three major league seasons–the benefit of immediate financial security well into the eight-figure range could be worth delaying his free agency. 

Wacha’s earning potential is less certain–while the team at one time envisioned Wacha an extension candidate, he now risks becoming the first Cardinal involved in an arbitration hearing since 1999.

Though he will assuredly receive a raise, as is standard under the arbitration structure, Wacha enters his first year of arbitration eligibility feeling like an undervalued commodity. While Wacha still considers himself a starting pitcher, the Cardinals are no longer as confident in his ability to successfully manage such a workload.

His current status speaks volumes: if the team and player (and his agent) weren’t so far apart on a value for his services, they likely would have settled already. Even Rosenthal and Matt Adams–whose roles on the team, like Wacha’s, are unclear–were able to settle. But those players are both in their second year of arbitration eligibility, making their salary projections easier to pin down.

The first arbitration year often presents the largest jump in salary for players with stable value, as it’s the first time teams are required to offer them anything above the league-minimum. Because his role is in limbo, Wacha’s value is difficult to decipher.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Wacha’s salary at $3.2 million. That’s $1.3 million more than their projection for Siegrist, a successful non-closing reliever also in his first year of arbitration eligibility. For Wacha, that number reflects his past performance as a viable starter.

But if Wacha is no longer a starter, should he be paid on the arbitration scale like one? This point is likely a source of strife in negotiations between Wacha’s representation and the Cardinals.

Heyman reported Wacha and the Cardinals are $425,000 apart on their filings. Wacha filed at $3.2 million, equaling the MLBTR projection, while the Cardinals filed at $2.775 million. This gap is greater than the $350,000 between filings of the team and Martinez, and with less overall money in play, the proportional difference is markedly higher, too. If negotiations fail to produce a settlement prior to the scheduled arbitration hearing, an arbitration panel will side with one party or the other–no middle ground.

Teams strongly prefer to avoid it, and they usually are able to do so. However, because of the unique circumstances in Wacha's case, the notion that it could require third-party mediation doesn't seem so wild.

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