Cards agree with 7 arbitration-eligible players

Reliever Cabrera, All-Star closer Helsley will exchange figures with club

January 14th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- A relatively quiet Cardinals offseason gave way to a flurry of activity on Friday as the club reached one-year agreements with seven arbitration-eligible players and braced for a salary hearing with closer .

The Cardinals went into Friday's noon CT deadline for players to file for salary arbitration with hopes of inking promising pitchers and and key core players and Helsley to contract extensions. While the Cardinals did reach one-year pacts with Montgomery, Flaherty and Edman, no long-term contracts were hammered out.

Helsley, who won the closer’s job in 2022 and became a first-time All-Star, couldn’t come to an agreement with the Cardinals on his compensation for the upcoming season, and the two sides will head to a hearing if they don’t get a deal done before then. Reliever Génesis Cabrera also is heading down the route despite a disappointing 2022 season in which he was demoted to Triple-A.

Montgomery, who won his first five decisions with the Cardinals after being traded from the Yankees, agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal for 2023, a source told executive reporter Mark Feinsand. Flaherty, who reached a $5 million deal for the 2021 season to avoid arbitration, signed for $5.4 million on Friday despite missing most of the 2022 season because of shoulder bursitis, according to a source.

The Cardinals avoided more arbitration hearings by agreeing with ($4.95 million), ($2.65 million), ($1,837,500), ($1.1 million) and Edman ($4.2 million) on one-year pacts.

Lefty is the only pitcher signed beyond this season, and attempts to ink Montgomery and Flaherty to extensions this week did not bear fruit, meaning both could become free agents following the season. Veteran has announced that 2023 will be his final season. could be the focus of extension talks in Spring Training based on his stellar 2022 season.

After attracting 3.3 million fans in 2022 -- second in MLB only to the Dodgers -- the Cardinals promised their payroll would rise in 2023. It has indeed done that but not enough to close the financial gulf between the Redbirds and NL big spenders such as the Mets, Dodgers, Phillies, Padres and Braves.

The club’s biggest offseason move was signing free-agent catcher (five years, $87.5 million), but it hasn't added another lefty hitter or power off the bench.

The addition of Contreras, the seven arbitration-avoiding deals, salary estimates for Helsley and Cabrera and raises for the pre-arbitration-eligible players take the Cardinals’ payroll to approximately $175 million for the upcoming season. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak thinks the Cardinals can improve on 2022, when they won 93 games and the NL Central.

“We got our biggest need, but there were some things that we were also hoping to do, but we weren’t able to accomplish them -- or they weren’t in our best interest to pursue,” said Mozeliak, whose Cardinals begin their three-day Winter Warm-Up festivities in St. Louis on Saturday.

“There are always ups and downs and things you think through in the offseason, but we still feel pretty confident about where our team is and where we’re headed. We’re definitely excited to get going.”

Helsley and Edman, two of the Cardinals’ most important players, cashed in on their strong 2022 seasons via MLB’s new pre-arbitration bonus pool provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Helsley, a second-team All-MLB pick, earned more in bonuses ($865,011) than in base pay ($722,450). As for Edman, who ranked fifth in WAR in the NL, he earned $712,375 in bonuses on top of his $722,900 base salary from last season. 

Helsley, 28, is coming off a career year in 2022. Beyond the knee and elbow pain that hampered him previously, Helsley was 9-1 with a 1.25 ERA and 19 saves in 23 opportunities. His rate of 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings and his 0.74 WHIP were among the best in baseball. Also, he threw MLB’s fastest pitch, 104.2 mph in Milwaukee on Sept. 28.

The Cardinals and their arbitration-eligible players can negotiate potential contracts until the hearings. However, the club’s history has been to resist pursuing long-term deals if agreements aren’t made prior to the arbitration deadline.