Flaherty opens up about arb, '21, activism

February 23rd, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- There were memes, and plenty of them. But reassured on Tuesday -- the same day he faced hitters for the first time this Spring Training -- that his relationship with the Cardinals has not changed “at all” after he went through the full arbitration process and won.

“We stuck with our guns, and at the end of the day, we ended up being right,” Flaherty said. “It could have gone the other way.”

The “other way” is the $3 million the Cardinals proposed as the case was heading toward a panel. A panel of arbitrators, whose decisions are usually based on comparable performances from prior arbitration-eligible players, ultimately sided with Flaherty, awarding him $3.9 million, up from the prorated $604,500 he made in 2020.

This was only the second time the Cards played out the arbitration process in full since 1999; they won their case with Michael Wacha in 2017. Flaherty and the Cards have had brushes before, as he rejected the club’s proposed salary the past two years in the lead-up to this first time through arbitration. The club “renewed” his salary for those seasons.

Asked on Tuesday if he thinks it’s “inevitable” that he will hit free agency when he’s scheduled to do so after the 2023 season -- meaning, not come to a long-term agreement with St. Louis -- Flaherty didn’t rule it out.

“I don’t think anything is inevitable. That’s saying that things are already determined, and if you think I’ve looked two years forward, then I don’t think you know me,” he said. “We stay in the present moment of what’s going on right now. That’s something that’s a few years away. To say, ‘Yes, it’s inevitable,’ I don’t look that far ahead. So no, not at all. We stay right here, we stay in this moment.”

There was much more Flaherty discussed in his first virtual sit-down with reporters of 2021 -- a nearly 20-minute back-and-forth.

On his 2020 season, ’21 outlook

Flaherty’s 2020 struggles can be partly attributed to timing -- timing in the sense that he made only one start before the club’s COVID-19 outbreak, as his next turn in the rotation was scheduled for when St. Louis' season came to a pause. Twenty-six days passed from his Opening Day start to his second outing of the season.

With the long term in mind, Flaherty was put on a strict limit in his return, and he threw just 105 pitches across his first two outings. It was a health-conscious plan that Flaherty appreciates now.

Flaherty was solid in his opening start and dynamite in his penultimate outing, then took a tough-luck loss while twirling six frames of one-run ball in the Wild Card Series.

“I don't think my stuff was ever perfect or the way I wanted it, or it was crisp or as sharp. I probably put a little bit too much on myself,” he said. “We’re just going to try to carry that playoff start over into this year.”

Facing Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader and Scott Hurst on Tuesday was a beginning.

On his mindset

Along with the memes, a quick perusal of Flaherty’s social media platforms will lead you to several motivational speeches and tactics. He has embraced the mental preparation to become an ace just as much as he has the physical. And that’s more important than ever after an arduous 2020 season, with endurance uncertainties for all pitchers in ’21.

“A good friend of mine, he talked about breath, and that breath only occurs in the present,” Flaherty said. “You can’t breathe in the past. All you can control is that little bit right then and there. … It’s something that sticks with me.”

On his platform

Flaherty was one of the many athletes whose voice was elevated over the past year, after protests against social injustice and police brutality captivated the nation. He hopes that continues to expand.

That’s already been accomplished, in part. The Players Alliance Pull-Up Tour made more than 30 stops around the country, distributing baseball equipment, food and personal protective equipment for underserved communities. Those types of grassroot movements are one step. Continuing all types of conversations is another.

“I don’t think that’s something that’s ever going to go away,” Flaherty said. “I’m hoping that you’re going to see the same type of emphasis put on [Women’s History Month in] March as we have put on Black History Month. The same thing with social injustice, I'm hoping that you can kind of see the same thing going forward with athletes across all platforms, being able to push women forward the way that we have for Black history.”