The Cardinals avoided any friction that adversarial arbitration hearings may create with both of the starters who can be free agents this fall. But the club was unable to sidestep that possibility with two relievers in their first bid for arbitration’s bigger paydays.
Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery joined shortstop Tommy Edman as three of the seven players who finalized salaries on one-year contracts with the Cardinals on Friday.
All-Star closer Ryan Helsley and lefty Genesis Cabrera were unable to reach agreement with the Cardinals on salaries for the 2023 season before Friday’s deadline to exchange numbers, the team announced. The Cardinals’ policy remains that if they do not agree to terms by the deadline they will let the player’s one-year salary be determined by an arbiter.
Tyler O’Neill avoided arbitration one year after going to a hearing with the Cardinals and acknowledging that the process was stressful and weighed on him away from the ballpark. The Gold Glove-winning left fielder finalized a deal for $4.95 million in 2023, per sources. Flaherty, who has twice been renewed by the Cardinals and defeated them in a 2021 hearing, avoided a rematch by agreeing to a $5.4 million salary, according to sources. The coming season is the 27-year-old right-hander’s last before he can become a free agent. Montgomery and Edman saw notable increases in their salary — Montgomery to $10 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility and Edman to $4.2 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, per sources.
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Montgomery made $6 million this past season, during which the Cardinals acquired him from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline. Edman, a Gold Glove-winner at second and one of the highest Wins Above Replacement in his class, increased his salary sixfold.
Jordan Hicks, who also can be a free agent at season’s end, finalized a $1.8 million deal with the Cardinals, sources confirmed. Starter Dakota Hudson signed for $2.65 million and catcher Andrew Knizner for $1.1 million, sources said.
In his filing, Helsley filed a salary request of $3 million and the Cardinals countered with an offer of $2.15 million. Cabrera requested $1.15 million and the Cardinals presented a contract argument of $950,000. An arbiter will choose one of the two figures after hearing arguments from both sides during spring training.
The $30.1 million in salaries guaranteed by the deals Friday gives more clarity to the Cardinals’ opening day, 26-man payroll for 2023. John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, pledged that payroll would “go up” as the team emerged from COVID-shaped seasons and the jackpot ticket sales from Albert Pujols’ history jamboree. The Cardinals had a 2022 opening day, 26-man roster payroll of around $154 million. With some salaries yet to be decided, an estimate based on Post-Dispatch reporting puts the Cardinals approaching $174 million for opening day 2023.
The agreements Friday do not preclude the Cardinals from continuing talks with any of the players about multiyear extensions. The Cardinals plan to have discussions with at least two starters this spring about longer-term deals. The club has one starter in the rotation (Steven Matz) under contract for 2024 and another (Dakota Hudson) under control, but could be facing the expensive possibility of filling out three spots in a rotation. The Cardinals have continued to explore trades for a starter, and in-house starters Montgomery, Miles Mikolas, and perhaps Flaherty are candidates for extensions.
The deadline to exchange salaries was once prelude to agreements at the midpoint and allowed the Cardinals to go nearly two decades without an arbitration hearing.
That has changed in recent years as the Cardinals joined many other teams by adopting a “file-and-trial” approach. Part of what drove a shift was the practice of midpoint inflation — that is, both sides offering salaries for the purpose of tugging at the midpoint, not winning a hearing.
The Cardinals have carved out a caveat, saying they’ll negotiate with players after exchanging figures on multiyear deals. A year ago, the Cardinals and O’Neill had several discussions about a multiyear contract headed into their hearing, but did not agree on one.
Players who have a contract for the coming season and at least three years of service time are eligible to have arbitration determine their salary. The process is usually the first time a young player sees significant gains in his salary before being eligible for free agency. Montgomery, Flaherty and Hicks will all be eligible for free agency in November after having reached six years of service time.