Cardinals avoid arb with 3, but not Flaherty

January 15th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals reached one-year agreements with three of their remaining arbitration-eligible players ahead of Friday’s deadline to swap salary figures, the club confirmed. Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals exchanged salary figures ahead of the deadline and are likely headed to an arbitration hearing next month.

, a longtime top prospect who asserted himself as a reliever this past season, agreed to a $900,000 contract, sources told’s Mark Feinsand. Center fielder received a significant raise with a $2 million agreement, first reported by USA Today. And closer agreed to an $862,500 deal for 2021, a source told Feinsand.

The Cardinals remain interested in completing a deal with Flaherty, who has had his salary renewed the past two years. But they are likely headed to their first hearing since 2017 -- which they won against Michael Wacha -- because the club has typically viewed Friday’s deadline as a hard one, stopping negotiations ahead of the hearing. It was once common for teams and players to continue negotiating contracts right up until the day of their arbitration hearings. In recent years, that practice has become less frequent, and if a deal isn’t reached prior to the arbitration submission deadline, it is often assumed the sides will head to arbitration next month, where an arbiter will determine the player’s salary for '21.

Flaherty, Hicks, Bader and Reyes were arbitration-eligible for the first time this year. Reliever John Gant, in his second year of arbitration, agreed to a $2.1 million contract for 2021 in early December.

Reyes has just found his footing after three years of injuries and ended the season as the Cardinals' closer before the 26-year-old left St. Louis healthy for the first time since 2016. In 15 games last season, Reyes had one save and a 3.20 ERA to go with 27 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings.

The Cardinals see Reyes entering Spring Training as a starter for this upcoming season, setting him on the path to his ultimate goal as a key piece of the rotation.

Bader, also 26, saw a boost in offensive performance during the shortened season -- bumping his OPS from .680 in 2019 to .779 in ’20 -- giving the Cardinals confidence he can continue to turn things around as their center fielder. Arbitration is geared toward past performance and playing time, and Bader saw a significant raise because he was an everyday player for the Cards the past two seasons. He remains an elite defender, ranking in the Top 10 in Statcast’s outs above average among all Major League center fielders in '20, with four, and fourth in the Majors in '19 with 13.

Hicks, 24, opted out of the 2020 season due to pre-existing health conditions and continued his recovery from Tommy John surgery, which saw him miss half of the '19 season, too. The missed time due to injury made his raise slight, but the Cardinals expect him to return to full strength in '21. The fireball reliever notched 14 saves before his elbow injury in '19, while posting a 3.14 ERA across 28 2/3 innings (29 games).