Before introducing the centerpiece of their offseason and new focal point of their lineup to the home crowd this weekend at the Winter Warm-Up, the Cardinals reached an agreement with Marcell Ozuna on his salary for the coming season just before Friday’s arbitration deadline struck.
The Cardinals, who have adopted a “file and trial” approach to arbitration negotiations the past two years, finalized contracts with Ozuna and two other eligible players Friday and will avoid going to a hearings next month. Ozuna and pitchers Michael Wacha and Tyler Lyons all agreed to one-year deals. Randal Grichuk had finalized his one-year, $2.6 million deal Thursday.
Acquired last month from Miami, Ozuna received the largest raise of the group with a $9 million salary for the coming year, according to a source. The agreement represents a $5.5 million bump for the two-time All-Star after his breakout season with a career-high 37 homers and 124 RBIs, and it was in line with the raises other sluggers with similar service time received. Wacha, in his second bite at arbitration, agreed to a $5.3 million deal, and Lyons, a first-time arbitration player, received a $1.2 million agreement.
The Cardinals only discussed one-year deals with the players.
For Ozuna and the Cardinals, the arbitration process could have represented a curious start to a new and important relationship, especially if the two sides did not come to an agreement before Friday’s deadline. At that point, the team and the agent would have exchanged salary figures and — even if they were close — the Cardinals would have, by policy, gone to a hearing.
“Marcell had a great year, and it really is an easy conversation to be had when we all agree with that beginning point — that Marcell had a great year,” Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch said. “So it’s just a matter then of where he slots in to the arbitration process. The conversation really is easy at this point because it is about a great year and then how he fits.”
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Ozuna and Wacha, both of whom were second-time eligible, had their salaries based on their recent season, while Lyons, as a first-timer, was able to use his entire career so far to establish his salary. Ozuna won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for left field — awards he’ll receive Sunday at the 60th annual St. Louis Baseball Writers’ Dinner — and he hit .312 with a career-best .548 slugging percentage. Wacha established himself with a 30-start season, a 4.13 ERA and a 12-9 record. His durability and 165 2/3 innings helped his case.
A year ago, Wacha was involved in the Cardinals’ first arbitration hearing since 1999. The team won, arguing that Wacha’s salary should be $2.775 million.
He was the player who signaled a pivot for a team that had previously been willing to negotiate even after salaries were exchanged. Internally, the Cardinals call the approach “file and go,” and they are now one of the dozen or so teams that have a strict policy of going to hearings if they…