JUPITER, Fla. • By rejecting the Cardinals’ calculated salary offer for the 2019 season, Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty forced the team to unilaterally renew his contract, not because he took issue with the club, just the overall salary system in place.
“It’s nothing on the Cardinals. They play within what the system is,” Flaherty said. “Their process is great and it makes sense, but in the grand scheme of things the system itself that everybody plays under just isn’t — it’s not a great system for everybody.
“The system as a whole is not great.”
The Cardinals finalized contracts with 20 players on the 40-man roster who have less than three years of service time. The club was able to agree to terms on salaries with all of them except for Flaherty and reliever Jordan Hicks. As a result, the Cardinals had the collectively bargained right to impose a salary on both young players and, per team policy, exact a penalty. Other teams do the same.
The Cardinals offered Flaherty $572,100 for 2019, but when an agreement could not be reached the team renewed their starter at $562,100, according to a source familiar with the deal. Hicks saw a similar reduction, though his salary was not revealed.
Players with less than three years of service time are not eligible for arbitration and have no leverage unless they explore multi-year deals. Jose Martinez did that earlier this spring and signed a two-year contract.
The renewal means Hicks and Flaherty did not agree to their value, and did not sign contracts.
The Cardinals had gone more than a decade without renewing a player until last spring when they imposed a salary on outfielder Tommy Pham.
Through discussions with the Cardinals, Flaherty learned about the in-house formula the Cardinals use to determine salaries for pre-arbitration players. The process is essentially a weighted Wins Above Replacement that takes into account service time . Flaherty has a year of service time and while making 28 starts and finishing second in innings pitched had a 2.6 WAR. Hicks spent all of 2018 in the majors, and as a rocket-powered reliever had a 0.3 WAR.
Both are set to have prominent roles on this year’s pitching staff, though the current system pays for past performance and service time, not current role. Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell, the Cy Young Award winner in the AL, received only a $15,500 raise when the Rays reportedly renewed him.
The major-league minimum this season is $555,000.
Hicks called the renewal “no big deal.”
Flaherty completed a bullpen session Saturday that sets him up to start Monday's exhibition. His schedule is now lined up to start the second game of the season, at Milwaukee. That would put him on turn to start the home opener at Busch Stadium on April 4 -- an assignment that has not be finalized but has been discussed.
“I never ever want anything to come in the way of getting a chance to play the game that we all love,” Flaherty said. “We’re grown men playing a kids’ game. We all remember that. We all reflect on that. I make sure that I know that. Obviously, there is a business side to it. I like to be informed and about how teams go about it. This has nothing to do with the Cardinals. I understand the way it works. Everybody plays under the same rules, it’s just that the entirety of the system is not great.”
OZUNA THROWS, SINGLES
When Marcell Ozuna skipped his first hit of spring training through the left side of the infield, the Cardinals dugout shouted for the baseball, as if to keep it as a souvenir. Ozuna had gone hitless in his first 14 at-bats of spring games. Ozuna shared in the laugh — his biggest breakthrough of the day had happened hours earlier.
On a practice field, Ozuna participated in throwing drills to third and home at full speed for the first time this spring. After some hesitation in his first and second throw, Ozuna, a healthy shoulder and new mechanics to flaunt, loosed a series of one-hoppers to home plate.
He could not make that throw a year ago; he could start in left Monday. “You have to respect that if you’re a baserunner or a third-base coach,” manager Mike Shildt said after watching the drills. “Super-encouraging day for Ozuna.”
With a liberal use of his new split-finger fastball and some fiddling with the shape of his curveball, Adam Wainwright threw four scoreless innings against Houston on Saturday and held the Astros to two hits and struck out two. Wainwright threw about 10 splits — more than he had in any game in his career, and he’s test-driving that pitch as a possible changeup alternative. At times during the start Wainwright also down-shifted his curveball to slower speeds and had it slide across the plate as opposed to drop over it.
The Astros’ second look at Wainwright produced some of the harder hits of the outing, but he contained the group that included Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer. “Big league hitters are a great measure of where your stuff’s at and how good you are,” Wainwright said. “They’ll tell you if you’re leaving the ball over the plate and not cutting it, sinking it like you should. Those barrels will let you know.”
While always subject to change based on how he recovers or the team’s need, the plan for top prospect Alex Reyes (shoulder surgery) continues to be to use him in one-inning appearances in Grapefruit League games, as he pitched Saturday. Perhaps later in the month, his workload will expand. That usage would put him closer to a reliever’s role than starter for opening day, though the Cardinals have some flexibility with how the fifth starter is introduced to the season.
Reyes walked the first two Astros he faced Saturday in his second Grapefruit appearance. He settled in and got two flyballs, one of which was turned into a double play.It was the second time in as many games that Reyes has groped for the command of his fastball, while throwing it consistently between 95 mph and 97 mph.
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Shildt said. “I have full expectation without any real reservation that Alex is going to hone-in and start to have his consistency. You’ve got a couple of things going in that regard. First of all, he hasn’t pitched in over two years. He’s excited to be back. He really wants to have his best chance to be on our club, which I support.”
While there’s a competition ahead of him on the depth chart for a spot on the big-league bench, infielder Tommy Edman continued to situate himself as a ready-when-needed utility fielder. The switch-hitting Stanford product hit a two-run homer Saturday, had two hits, and raised his spring average to .350. He committed an error in the ninth inning at second base, but overall has shown a deft feel for playing multiple positions.
The Cardinals may carry their backup shortstop in the majors or stash that player at Class AAA Memphis to play every day. Either way, the assignment for Edman, 23, is likely to be moving around the infield, scoring regular playing time at a variety of positions.
“We’ll see how the roster unfolds,” Shildt said. “Feel like (Edman) should play multiple positions and get as much experience on the left side as possible.”
CARDINALS CUT 10
The Cardinals’ first cuts of camp included a reliever who impressed early and could make his major-league debut at some point in 2019. Ryan Helsley and nine other players were trimmed from big-league spring training Saturday. Pitchers Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera; and infielder Edmundo Sosa and Adolis Garcia were all optioned to the Class AAA roster for minor-league camp.
Non-roster pitchers Seth Elledge, Evan Kruczynski and Williams Perez were all reassigned to minor-league camp, as were catchers Dennis Ortega and Julio Rodriguez.
The Cardinals have 55 remaining in camp, including 35 on the 40-man roster.
KISSELL HONOR, ETC.
Farm director Gary LaRocque received this spring’s George Kissell Award, the highest honor the Cardinals’ minor-league system has for contributions to player development. … Austin Gomber will start Sunday’s game, followed by Flaherty on Monday, and Miles Mikolas draws the trip to face Atlanta on Tuesday on Disney World’s turf. … In a subtle, respectful nod to their place in the organization, players from minor-league camp are no longer outfitted with jerseys that have numbers in the 90s and no names. Instead, they wear their camp jerseys with whatever number they have and their name on the back, like Scott Hurst wearing No. 44. … Of starting the game that also saw Yadier Molina’s first behind the plate of spring, Wainwright said: “Like a pair of old shoes.”