Shortly before Friday’s deadline that likely would have forced the two sides into an arbitration hearing during spring training, the Cardinals and reliever John Gant agreed on a one-year, $1.3-million contract for the coming season.
Gant, 27, was the team’s lone arbitration-eligible player. Shortstop Paul DeJong would have been had he not agreed to an extension several years ago, and the team allowed reliever Dominic Leone to become a free agent rather than go through the arbitration process with him.
Arbitration eligible for the first time in his career, Gant more than doubled his salary after a season that started strong and yet ended without him on the Cardinals’ playoff roster.
The righthander, who the team acquired from Atlanta in exchange for former starter Jaime Garcia, went 11-1 with a 3.66 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings. All 64 of his appearances came in relief.
Gant spent spring training dueling Dakota Hudson for an opening in the Cardinals’ rotation, and the rookie edged him during the final week of camp. Gant deftly moved into a setup role and was one of the Cardinals most reliable relievers the first half of the season. His success started the fray in the second half, and 16 of the 27 earned runs he allowed all season came in his final 21 2/3 innings of work.
His walk-rate spiked in the season’s final month and the Cardinals opted not to use him on their push into the National League Championship Series.
Gant, who has a wicked Vulcan-grip changeup, is expected to come to spring training as one of a dozen or so pitchers on a starters’ program. He will have the chance to audition to be insurance for the rotation, and if he could return to a setup role or serve in a swingman position that helps cover middle innings.
The Cardinals have recently adopted a “file and trial” approach, and if they did not agree to terms with Gant before midday Friday the two sides would have submitted salary figures to the union and commissioners’ office. An arbiter would choose one of those salaries after both sides presented their arguments in a hearing.
In the past two decades, the Cardinals have gone to arbitration with only one player, pitcher Michael Wacha. The team won an arbitration hearing a year ago.
After Thursday’s trade that sent outfielders Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena with a draft pick to Tampa Bay for top prospect Matthew Liberatore, a lefty, the Cardinals now have 38 players on their 40-man roster. All of them have contracts for 2020.
All players on the 40-man roster with less than three years of service time, including No. 1 starter Jack Flaherty, will have their salaries for 2020 determined by the club during spring training.