Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty penalized by salary renewal system for second consecutive season

St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season following the All-Star Game. In 15 starts, he posted a 0.91 ERA and held opponents to a .424 OPS while averaging nearly seven frames per outing. Flaherty, perhaps more so than anyone else, was instrumental in the Cardinals winning the National League Central.

Even so, the Cardinals did Flaherty few favors in setting his salary for the 2020 season. Instead, the Cardinals will pay him $604,500 this upcoming season, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Flaherty’s salary was reduced by $10,000 as a punishment for him failing to agree to terms with the club. This is the second spring in a row that’s happened.

Flaherty, 24, isn’t the only young star having a salary forced upon him by his team. The Washington Nationals recently “renewed” outfielder Juan Soto’s contract for $629,400, per NBC Sports Washington. Soto, obviously, would be earning a greater sum under a more just system.

For those unfamiliar with how MLB’s pay structure works, the short version is that teams have the power to unilaterally impose salaries on players who are not arbitration eligible. Pre-arb players like Flaherty and Soto, then, have little agency as it pertains to their salary. Nonetheless, teams are willing to penalize those who do not agree with their proposed “renewal” terms.

The funniest aspect of the whole mess is that teams swear they’re concerned about “fairness” when deciding pre-arbitration salaries. You hear a lot about how it wouldn’t be “fair” to make an exception for this player and not that player; and, how the team tries to be “fair” by using objective means to dictate pre-arbitration salaries. (The Cardinals’ formula is based on “days in the majors, health, and performance, as described by Wins Above Replacement,” per Goold). Those rationalizations accomplish little more than passing the buck: it doesn’t matter if the micro decisions are “fair” when the overarching system is built to suppress wages. 

Keep this in mind the next time a team excuses a lackluster winter by claiming that they’re willing to spend, but that they’re more interested in paying for future production, as opposed to past results. If that were so, teams would be more motivated to find ways to pay their best young players more money, including re-configuring a broken system. 

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