Cardinals Settle with Three of Four Arbitration-Eligible Players

photo: Harrison Bader (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today (Friday, January 15) that they have reached agreements on one-year contracts for the upcoming 2021 season with outfielder Harrison Bader and pitchers Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes, avoiding salary arbitration.  Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

The team will exchange salary arbitration figures with pitcher Jack Flaherty following today’s 12 noon CST deadline.

Bader, 26, batted .226 with 4 HR & 11 RBI in 50 games in 2020, including a .360 mark vs. left-handed pitchers.  The right-handed hitting outfielder is considered among the game’s top defensive centerfielders.

Harrison Bader

Hicks, 24, opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID health concerns, as he continued his recovery from Tommy John surgery.  The fire-balling reliever has recorded 20 career saves, including 14 prior to his elbow injury in 2019.

Jordan Hicks

Reyes, 26, appeared in single-season high 15 games for the Cardinals in 2020, striking out 27 batters in 19.2 innings pitched, and he gained a save in the team’s Game 1 playoff win at San Diego with 3.1 innings of work to close out the 7-4 victory.

Alex Reyes

Brian Walton’s take

The arbitration process is working as intended. Once the two sides had to declare their respective final pre-hearing financial positions, which were due today, it likely enabled them to quickly settle on a middle ground – in three of the four cases.

The Cardinals further the resolution process via an organization policy (which many other teams follow as well) set several years ago generically called “File and Trial.” Essentially, the team cuts off negotiations from today forward, instead intending to take the player to hearing next month because there was no agreement by now, rather than continuing to negotiate in the interim.

The last Cardinal to go to hearing was Michael Wacha three years ago, and he lost. In 2019, all three eligible players came to terms on the January due date. Same with John Gant, the team’s only eligible player one year ago.

Flaherty continues to make a point

2021 is different in one case, however. As an outspoken advocate for player rights, Flaherty’s stance to go to hearing is not a surprise.

Even in his final two pre-arbitration years, during which he had virtually no leverage, Flaherty protested against the system. He took a $10,000 penalty from the Cardinals in both 2019 and 2020 for refusing to accept their “offer” to renew his contract. In reality, he had no choice but to accept – if he wanted to play professional baseball.

Jack Flaherty

Now that he has reached three years of service time, Flaherty and his agent have the right to plead his case for the higher of the two submitted amounts for his 2021 salary. Those two figures, as developed by the team and player, respectively, will be added to this story in the table below when made public.

In all fairness, this is the system which the players and owners established jointly to cover the years of 2017 through 2021. A new Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2022 forward will be negotiated later this year and it is expected to be a rocky road to resolution. Arbitration could be a major battleground.


While the midpoint mentioned is mathematically accurate, it is irrelevant to Flaherty’s situation. The result of the arbitration hearing will be a decision either in favor of the team or player – with no compromise.

Revisiting the estimates

Here are the preliminary estimates for the four from MLB Trade Rumors, which used three different estimation processes as the off-season began:

Arb eligible Pos Class Ctrl thru Method 1 Method 2 Method 3 Average Contract Team Player
Jack Flaherty RHS Arb 1 2023  $2.2MM  $3.0MM  $2.2MM $2.5MM TBD $3.9MM $3 MM
Harrison Bader OF Arb 1 2023  $1.2MM  $1.7MM  $1.2MM $1.4MM $2.0MM
Alex Reyes RHR Arb 1 2023  $1.0MM  $1.2MM  $1.0MM $1.1MM $900K
Jordan Hicks RHR Arb 1 2023  $900K  $900K  $900K  $900K $862.5K

According to national media reports, Bader came to terms for an even $2 million in salary for 2021. Reyes settled right at $900,000, with Hicks closely behind at $862,500.

The MLBTR estimates averaged about 50% too low for Bader, while their expected amounts for both pitchers were slightly too high. The source readily admits that the unusual and truncated 2020 season injected greater uncertainty into the process.

Earlier, the resolution of two other Cardinals arbitration-eligible players for 2021 was made. In his second year of eligibility, reliever John Gant came to terms on a one-year, $2.1 million contract back on December 3 and reliever John Brebbia was non-tendered and subsequently signed with San Francisco.

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