The St. Louis Cardinals raised some eyebrows around baseball Monday morning when it was revealed the team fined its ace for not signing his new contract. For the second straight year, Jack Flaherty and the team could not agree on a contract both sides liked, so the Cardinals imposed a salary on him.
That’s not uncommon in Major League Baseball for players who haven’t been in the Majors all that long. The first three seasons of Major League experience are known as “pre-arbitration.” The shorthand for this is the player is at the mercy of what the big league club wants to pay him, as long as it’s above the league minimum.
What does make the Cardinals’ situation with Flaherty a bit different is the acknowledgment they punished their best pitcher for the impasse. Jeff Roberson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the team fined the pitcher $10,000, though they also gave him a $10,000 bonus for finishing in fourth place in voting for the NL Cy Young Award.
The penalty and the bonus offset, so Flaherty is set to earn $604,500 in 2020. The pitcher has declined the Cardinals’ contract offers two straight seasons because he wants to have it on the record that he doesn’t agree with the team’s assessment of his value.
As Roberson points out, Flaherty is doing what many other young baseball players do. He’s eligible for arbitration after this season and wants to be able to argue he was underpaid for his production the previous three seasons.
The St. Louis Cardinals fining a player for not agreeing to a deal and forcing the team to impose one on them isn’t totally out of the ordinary either. However, some franchises shy away from doing that sort of thing to star players, as it can create ill will.
For his part, Flaherty told the paper he understands the circumstances he’s in and doesn’t hold a grudge, though he’s not thrilled about it.
“It’s just kind of the product of the system that we have. Can’t really do much. They’re going to play within what they’re allowed to do in the system. It’s not them. I can’t fault them for doing that. The system is what it is. And it’s not the best.”
The Cardinals have gone out of their way to make the formula they use to determine these contracts public. That formula includes days in the Majors, health, and performance as described by Wins Above Replacement (WAR). There are also bumps in pay for awards, such as the one Jack Flaherty received for being so close to the Cy Young.