Recently, we covered the Rays’ decision to give reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell a meager $5,500 raise in renewing his contract. Teams have typically rewarded their young players who go above and beyond production-wise with more significant raises. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, for example, had his salary bumped up to $1.05 million after winning the 2016 NL MVP Award. Snell, known as a “pre-arbitration” player because he has not yet reached three years of service time, said his situation with the Rays is “disappointing.”
Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty was impressive in his own right last year. As a 22-year-old, he posted a 3.34 ERA with 182 strikeouts and 59 walks across 151 innings, establishing himself as one of the Cardinals’ most reliable starters. Flaherty has just over one year of service time in the big leagues. The Cardinals offered him a $572,100 salary, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. That’s only $17,100 above the major league minimum.
Flaherty chose to reject his meager raise in protest. The Cardinals, as is their collectively bargained right, renewed his contract at a lesser $562,100. Teammate Jordan Hicks was in a similar situation, though the specific salary figures exchanged are not yet known.
Flaherty said, “It’s nothing on the Cardinals. They play within what the system is. Their process is great and it makes sense, but in the grand scheme of things, the system itself that everybody plays under just isn’t — it’s not a great system for everybody.” He added, “The system as a whole is not great.”
Because players advocating for themselves and their peers is often met with derision from fans (and the media), Flaherty preemptively defended himself. He said, “I never ever want anything to come in the way of getting a chance to play the game that we all love. We’re grown men playing a kids’ game. We all remember that. We all reflect on that. I make sure that I know that. Obviously, there is a business side to it. I like to be informed and about how teams go about it. This has nothing to do with the Cardinals. I understand the way it works. Everybody plays under the same rules, it’s just that the entirety of the system is not great.”
Flaherty shouldn’t feel a need to get out in front of the issue like that, but unfortunately, fans tend to immediately side with billionaire owners instead of the players when it comes to labor issues. The Rays and Cardinals aren’t alone in doing this to their pre-arb players. Every team does it to some degree. Usually, the issue doesn’t get much attention, but given everything else going on with free agency and service time manipulation, the teams’ decision-making processes are being put under the microscope, as they should be.