Cardinals win Helsley's arbitration case

February 17th, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. -- Following a season in which he became an MLB All-Star and an All-MLB performer for the first time, Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley went into his salary arbitration feeling he had an exceptionally strong case to earn a raise for 2023.

Nevertheless, Helsley, who went 9-1 with a 1.25 ERA and 19 saves in 2022, lost his case against the Cardinals, meaning he will make $2.15 million in '23 instead of the $3 million he sought. Helsley said there were numerous talks of a compromise between the two sides, but there was little movement and they wound up opposite one another in a Tampa courtroom on Tuesday.

Helsley admitted to being taken aback at the lengths that the Cardinals went to win the arbitration hearing. The club pointed to him pitching in just 54 games in 2022, being limited to only 51 appearances in '21 because of knee and elbow injuries and the instances this past season when he couldn’t pitch on back-to-back days, he said.

“They questioned durability and stuff like that, but then we pointed to me leading the [National] League in four-plus-out saves and that kind of shut that argument down really quick,” said Helsley, who was actually tied for fourth in the NL in saves of at least four outs, with four. “Can’t really expect guys to go back-to-back days when you’re throwing 30-plus pitches the night before.”

Helsley threw MLB’s fastest pitch on three occasions last season, topping out at 104.2 mph against the Brewers on Sept. 28. He also became only the second pitcher in the pitch-tracking era to hit at least 103 mph in the MLB All-Star Game.

Helsley’s brilliant season took a turn late in the year when he jammed the middle finger on his throwing hand during the final series of the regular season. Then, in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series against the Phillies, the Cardinals blew a 2-0 lead by surrendering six runs in the ninth -- four of which were charged to Helsley. He allowed one hit and walked two batters while being bothered by the finger injury.

Hearing the Cardinals cite that game and other poor performances as supporting evidence for their case was harder to take than Helsley expected.

“You think you do some things good and then they find ways to tell you that you’re not good,” Helsley said. “It’s definitely tough to go in there and swallow [that] and take that on the chin, if you will.”

Helsley, 28, said the experience has not permanently soured his relationship with the organization. He has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, meaning he could be back in this spot again.

“If the worst thing that happens is I make $2 million and not $3 [million], then I’ll be all right,” he said. “I’m just trying to be thankful for the opportunities that I have and cherish the moments that I have in the game while I have them.

“It’s tough, but you understand the process of it all. As players we wish it was a little different. Hopefully there won’t be a next time with this. Yesterday is history, right? So, just take each day as a new opportunity and commit to this team and try to help us win games. That’s all I can ask for and I’m excited to help the guys.”