photo: Jack Flaherty (David Kohl/Imagn)
As the negotiations for the 2020 season became increasingly acrimonious and prolonged, a number of Major League Baseball players spoke out in support of their union’s bargaining positions.
One of them is St. Louis Cardinals’ ace right-hander Jack Flaherty. Still four years away from free agency based on the current Cooperative Bargaining Agreement between owners and players, the 24-year old has been in the phase of his career in which production and pay are most mismatched. Specifically, the under-three year player has no choice but to accept any above-minimum salary offer tendered by his team.
The last two seasons, Flaherty respectfully declined to accept the team’s salary assignment, so was docked another $10,000 for his intransigence. He is one year away from his first of three seasons during which his salary can be decided by an arbitration panel if he and the team do not see his annual value similarly.
This is also the point in a young Cardinals player’s career where, if he is considered a core player, the team typically makes a long-term offer to cover the three arbitration years plus a free agent year or two, perhaps as team options. This has occurred a number of times over the years, back to Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina and more recently with Paul DeJong (and perhaps Kolten Wong next).
However, against the backdrop of Flaherty’s ongoing dissatisfaction with baseball’s compensation system, a number of observers (including this writer) feel that he would not entertain a long-term contract initiative – unless perhaps the money was so extraordinary he absolutely could not refuse.
Given that Bill DeWitt Jr. is still leading the Cardinals, the scope of such a proposal would almost certainly be generous, but not record-breaking and precedent-setting. In other words, Flaherty’s salaries for the next three years (2021-2023) are likely to be set on an annual basis, perhaps decided via hearings.
The entire situation led to some recent ripples of social media dissatisfaction and the Belleville News-Democrat even published a column entitled:
As Lance Berkman sagely noted as a Cardinal back in 2011, “It is always about the money. No matter what people say, it is always about the money.” Anyone who believes otherwise is living in the even further distant past.
Despite this, this idea of dealing Flaherty became a hot topic on local talk radio. Here is a prominent example, backed up by some very interesting poll results.
Question of the Day on Karraker & Smallmon:
Would you trade Jack Flaherty for Nolan Arenado?
— Michelle Smallmon (@msmallmon) June 17, 2020
Amazingly, almost one-quarter of over 7,200 voters in this twitter poll would be in favor of a Flaherty trade – in a very specific context.
The matter eventually migrated to The Cardinal Nation’s free forum, where a long-time poster asked readers their view of Flaherty’s current trade value.
When no explanation was provided as to why moving Flaherty out would be considered, the silence led me to do it myself. I evaluated four scenarios under which Flaherty might be traded.
After doing so, my conclusion is that none of the four make anywhere near enough sense to consider dealing away the team’s ace.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1) He is a troublemaker!
If the underlying reason to consider a trade is Flaherty’s support of the union in compensation matters, think of the number of players across MLB who have also spoken out this year. If teams were to retaliate against outspoken players, a significant percentage of MLB rosters would be changing uniforms – but which teams would take them?
It is pretty difficult to guess on a trade package without knowing which teams would be willing to take on vocal union supporters as other teams are ridding themselves of them. Of course, another assumption is that the Cardinals would be among the retaliating teams, for which there seems no shred of supporting suspicion.
It is important to remember that Flaherty has directed no acrimony toward the Cardinals or team officials.
2) He is going to leave, anyway!
Another potential reason for trading Flaherty would be a fear of him eventually leaving as a free agent. But since that is four years away under current rules, giving up what look to be very good years ahead at a well below market salary seems a really bad idea, especially for a team not tanking, but expecting to contend each season.
Maybe it would be worth revisiting in three years from now – or sooner if free agent rules and compensation changes are enacted in the next CBA. Also, one can hope that by then, the lingering problems from 2020 will be past and the baseball labor market will settle into normalcy (whatever that will be).
3) Use him to get Arenado!
Because of Flaherty’s success, relatively low salary and relatively long window before free agency, he is sure to appeal to other teams. The Cardinals might be motivated to trade him to scoop up a high-salaried star from one of the clubs looking to save money, an especially relevant thought in MLB’s current cash-strapped economic climate. (This is a generic Arenado scenario.)
The reason this idea does not hold water is that if Mr. DeWitt did not want to add more payroll in normal times, why would he change direction now? It has already been presented by DeWitt that the Cardinals are more dependent on game-day revenues than most teams – a tap that is completely shut off for 2020. One can only speculate what 2021 and beyond will look like.
Acquiring Arenado – with or without Flaherty in the deal – is not impossible – just extremely unlikely.
4) Sell high!
A fear that Flaherty’s strong 2019 on the mound was an aberration could be another trade driver. But does anyone actually think that Flaherty peaked at age 23?
A poster at TCN’s forum noted that Flaherty’s 5.7 bWAR was exactly half of the 2019 rotation’s 11.4 bWAR total. This placed St. Louis 12th in MLB. However, with a 2.0 bWAR average rotation replacement for Flaherty, the Cardinals staff would have slid to a below-average 20th spot in baseball.
As is the case with these other scenarios, the idea of trading Flaherty, despite any possible motivation, is highly, highly questionable.
We can only hope that live baseball will resume soon, leaving imaginary trades like this one as quaint relics from a time in which there was not enough real news to discuss that some people devised their own – complete with faux outrage!
When games do resume, enjoy Flaherty’s mound mastery!
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