ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals signed Jack Flaherty over the weekend, but it's not what you think.
Flaherty merely agreed to the team-controlled price that Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak prorated for him, which will amount to more than the league minimum, yet a decent amount less than $600,000. A nod, signature, and done deal.
After completing his second full season in the majors-one that included an historically-sound second half where Flaherty held batters to a .142 batting average and 0.91 earned run average, the young righthander will begin the arbitration hearing phase next year before the 2021 season kicks off.
Flaherty got a $10,000 raise from the Cardinals for his meteoric overnight rise in 2019, and more than likely balked at the team's offer to buy up some of his arbitration seasons. No one can blame the guy for refusing to work for pennies on the baseball dollar. Why hamstring your future value with a team-friendly contract? I am sure the conversation between Flaherty and his agent lasted shorter than an at-bat with your run-of-the-mill Major League hitter staring down the 24-year-old on the mound.
This isn't like Lance Lynn, who negotiated a contract and bought up some of his arbitration years. Other Cardinals such as Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Carlos Martinez negotiated team-friendly deals before they were set to get paid. It's a Cardinal tactic to secure the rights and future of their younger studs, but Flaherty isn't budging. He should definitely not.
Flaherty took a hit in salary for a second straight season by failing to agree to the team's terms. It's not happy news to the ears of fans, who reacted on the whole wanting the team to act now and pay up instead of allow doubt and other teams to creep into Flaherty's eyesight. But what you have to know is Flaherty is standing firm so himself and many young players can get what they deserve in future seasons. He's playing the long game, but this one is for himself and not the team.
The fan response makes the Cardinals looks like crazies but in actuality, they are just doing the business standard by holding fire with the big contract.
It isn't like the team doubts his abilities, but they don't feel the need to rush the long term deal ahead. When Flaherty most likely rejected the smaller 3-4 year deal, the books closed for a calendar year. If he doubles his 2019 second half and wins the Cy Young award, the Cardinals will have open the DeWallet nice and wide. I'd like to think they know that. Flaherty certainly does and is fine betting on himself to grab that big pay day. Years from now, that $10,000 penalty will seem like extra icing on the cake.
This is more of an issue that runs deeper than one player or team. It's the system baseball has constructed that simply doesn't reward a young player for their contributions above the replacement level. It's worked this way for years. A young player breaks out and outperforms the norm, receiving the bigger contract later that pays for his less-flattering seasons.
Flaherty's refusal to come down and take what's decent will only continue. Young stars should get paid like older stars. Young studs like him are going to hold out and wait, and teams are going to find their wallets opening wider and wider. Major League baseball could change the system even slightly and help both sides out. Offer up better raises for those who overachieve, making sure they see the incentive that peers around the corner in the same place a huge injury does.
Will it change? It sits on the doubtful side, but I wouldn't call it hopeless. Flaherty simply has to reaffirm to the Major League Baseball Players Association that this is a useful tactic. Again, it's a long bet for Flaherty and others to wait out at the poker table. The next collective bargaining agreement may see a shift in one direction, but I wouldn't bet big on a significant change. Teams will stretch the value of a player as far as they can, and the player will cater to it. Most of them at least.
Flaherty will want big money next year or he will take a significant raise in court. Can you imagine him going 18-8 with a 2.45 ERA and 200 innings with 270 strikeouts? He'll walk into court and simply smile, waiting for the Cardinals to cut a massive check. A check that can be for 6,7, or 8 years, or just one season.
You're right to be tentative of the Cardinals matching a Dodgers offer. Los Angeles is starting to see the twilight years of its league ace, Clayton Kershaw, and would love to pair him with a right-handed phenom. If 2024 rolls around and Flaherty doesn't have a long term deal, you bet the Dodgers will come over with a gigantic offer.
What kind of offer? Look at what Gerrit Cole just got. That gigantic.
But I think the Cardinals will do the right thing. If not next year, then in 2022. If they don't, the town will riot and perhaps the attendance will take a hit for once. When you come across a stud like Flaherty, one can only hope the Cardinals are merely doing due diligence and just playing the long game.
Since Major League Baseball allows teams to be patient, one can only hope the Cardinals are going to do the right thing with Flaherty. He's got a plan. Do the Cardinals have a plan?
This is a situation where fans put their chips in the basket with a team that does spend money. A team that spends top ten payroll money but doesn't win bidding wars. The Cardinals would be wise not to get into a bidding war eventually with their own staff ace.
In the mean time, Flaherty is here for another season, so the business will wait. He's in full control, on the mound and in the office.
The ball is in the Cardinals' court, but Flaherty is trying to take the game to another court with his patient actions.