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Flaherty among Cards' 4 arbitration cases

@anne__rogers
January 13, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' offseason has been sluggish so far, without any additions -- Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are still free agents -- yet, but a deadline is approaching this week that could spark some offseason movement. There are four arbitration-eligible players remaining ahead of Friday’s deadline to

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' offseason has been sluggish so far, without any additions -- Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are still free agents -- yet, but a deadline is approaching this week that could spark some offseason movement.

There are four arbitration-eligible players remaining ahead of Friday’s deadline to exchange salary figures: Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes. All four are in their first year of arbitration.

Players with more than three but fewer than six years of service time are eligible for arbitration if they have not agreed to a contract for the upcoming season. Contracts are meant to be negotiated based on comparable players in the Majors. Friday is the deadline for players and clubs to submit their salary requests for 2021, and if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on a contract, a hearing will take place in February, when a panel of arbiters hears arguments from both sides and either awards the player the salary he is asking for or the one the team is offering.

Contracts can be negotiated past Friday’s deadline, but the Cardinals typically view it as a hard deadline. In recent years, the team has adopted the “file and trial” approach to negotiations with arbitration-eligible players. That means that once figures are exchanged, the team stops negotiating for one-year deals and opts for the hearing. The Cards won their last arbitration hearing in 2017 with Michael Wacha; before that, St. Louis hadn’t gone to a hearing since 1999. But the pandemic-shortened 2020 season could drastically alter the way contracts are presented depending on how the 60-game season is treated by clubs and by agents, so more hearings could be seen this year.

The Cardinals have avoided arbitration already with reliever John Gant, who signed a one-year, $2.1 million contract in early December in his second year of eligibility. The Cardinals also non-tendered John Brebbia in December, and the right-hander signed a one-year deal with the Giants shortly after.

Here's a closer look at the Cardinals’ remaining arbitration-eligible players, with all projected numbers from Cot’s Baseball Contracts:

Jack Flaherty
Stats in 2019: 11-8, 2.75 ERA across 196 1/3 innings (33 starts), 0.968 WHIP, fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting
Stats in 2020: 4-3, 4.91 ERA across 40 1/3 innings (nine starts), 1.215 WHIP
Projected salary: $2.8 million

Flaherty could see his salary quadruple in 2021 because of arbitration. The Cardinals' ace had a superb 2019 season and will lean heavily on that performance, especially because it’s over a full 162-game season instead of the atypical 2020 season. On top of the schedule being 60 games, the Cardinals also dealt with a coronavirus outbreak, and their quarantine and condensed schedule when they returned to the field didn’t allow Flaherty to find much consistency. He went three weeks between his Opening Day start and his second start of the season. Flaherty found his footing in the postseason, delivering six innings of one-run ball for the Cardinals in their Game 3 Wild Card Series loss to the Padres.

With two years of arbitration left for Flaherty, it’s likely the Cardinals will try to sign him to a long-term deal in the coming years, especially with their desire to reduce payroll for the 2021 season. But with money coming off the books in ’22, some of their focus will be on locking Flaherty up long term before he hits free agency after the 2023 season.

Harrison Bader
Stats in 2019: .205 average, 12 homers, .680 OPS in 128 games (406 plate appearances)
Stats in 2020: .226 average, four homers, .779 OPS in 50 games (125 plate appearances)
Projected salary: $1.75 million

Bader found a groove late in 2020 that gave the Cardinals confidence he can continue to turn things around as their center fielder. Above everything else, his defense remains elite. The 26-year-old ranked in the Top 10 in Statcast’s outs above average among all Major League center fielders in 2020, with four. In 2019, he ranked fourth in the Majors among center fielders with 13 outs above average.

Jordan Hicks
Stats in 2019: 14 saves, 3.14 ERA across 28 2/3 innings (29 games)
Stats in 2020: Opted out due to pre-existing health conditions
Projected salary: $925,000

Hicks is recovering from the Tommy John surgery that he had in June 2019, and his pre-existing health concerns -- Type 1 diabetes -- along with a setback in his recovery saw him opt out of the 2020 season. He still received service time, which is why this is his first year of arbitration instead of next year. Hicks’ representation will lean heavily on what he’s done for the Cardinals, especially at such a young age. But the missed time due to injury could make the 24-year-old's raise slight.

Alex Reyes
Stats in 2020: 1 save, 3.20 ERA across 19 2/3 innings (15 games)
Projected salary: $1 million

Reyes has just found his footing after three years of injuries, but he performed well in 2020 as a late-inning reliever before ending the season as the Cardinals' closer. This past season was the first time in the past three years that the 26-year-old right-hander left St. Louis healthy, and he noted during the postseason how much of a relief that is. Reyes’ missed time due to injury prior to 2020 will likely result in just a slight raise, but if he stays healthy, his arbitration raises in the coming years will be significant.

Anne Rogers covers the Royals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.