The Cardinals have renewed ace Jack Flaherty‘s contract at just over $600,000. Flaherty did not agree to his contract for the second year in a row, but as a player with under three years of major league service time he is unable to bargain with the team and must play for the salary the Cardinals designated for him. According to Derrick Goold, the Cardinals have a team policy of fining pre-arbitration players $10,000 who do not agree to their contracts, but offset the penalty with a bonus for finishing fourth in last year’s National League Cy Young Award voting.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week that the Cardinals use a formula to determine salaries for pre-arbitration players. The formula takes things such as service time, performance, awards, All-Star appearances and so on into account.
As stated above, this is the second year in a row in which Flaherty did not agree to his contract. The big right-hander has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball for two years now and is arguably the most important player on the Cardinals. It’s quite evident that he’s being massively underpaid relative to his value.
The Cardinals were not the ones who decided that players with less than three years’ service time cannot negotiate their salaries, but teams have gone out of their ways to throw their great pre-arb players some money before. The Astros, for instance, gave Carlos Correa $1 million and $5 million in salary in his last two pre-arb years. However, it should be noted that Houston manipulated Correa’s service time in a way that they essentially squeezed an extra year out of Correa in which he was unable to go to arbitration.
That being said, the Cardinals’ pre-arb salary formula is, whether purposefully or not, an awfully good way of making sure that even outstanding players like Flaherty don’t make much money before they qualify for arbitration. The Cardinals can throw their hands up and say that they couldn’t possibly break their policy of adhering to the formula just for a special case like Flaherty, because then everyone would want special treatment. The formula might ensure equal treatment for everyone, but it certainly doesn’t encourage fair treatment.
Flaherty will be arbitration-eligible at the end of the season and his case is sure to be an interesting one. Another big season would lead to a substantial payday. The Cardinals have all the incentive in the world to try to sign Flaherty to a cost-controlled extension, given his potential earnings, so that’s something to keep an eye on as well.
The salary arbitration structure is going to be one of the big points of discussion in the next round of CBA discussions after the 2021 season. Cases like Flaherty’s are going to be front and center.