Jack Flaherty

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty throws during the second inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Friday, July 24, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

(KMOV.com) -- Jack Flaherty's years-long gripe with the system that determines salaries for young stars in Major League Baseball is being put to the test once again.

In a result that was no shock to those who have been reading the tea leaves in recent off-seasons, the Cardinals were unable to reach an agreement with the 25-year-old starting pitcher on his 2021 salary ahead of the arbitration filing deadline Friday.

The team announced that it had come to agreements with their other arbitration--eligible players, Harrison Bader, Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks, but the Flaherty news looms as the most significant--even though it's unsurprising.

This is Flaherty's first year as an arbitration-eligible player, which means it's the first time in his MLB career that the Cardinals can't simply unilaterally determine his salary for the upcoming season. In each of the last two years, Flaherty declined what is typically a formality for pre-arb players to agree with the Cardinals on his salary. Not necessarily as a complaint against his employer but against the system that allows the team to pay far below market value for his services.

In those instances, Flaherty standing his ground led to the Cardinals imposing a salary based on their internal formula for pre-arb players, which relies upon service time. His personal protest didn't have any formal impact at the time, but it set the precedent for potential arbitration hearings down the road. Flaherty has never agreed in a given season that he was appropriately compensated for the value he brought to the team--and no one could competently claim otherwise.

Well, the time has arrived where one of those hearings could indeed be forthcoming. After the two sides failed to reached an agreement Friday, the next step in the process will see the sides exchange figures; Flaherty submits a number that he believes he should earn for a salary in 2021, and the Cardinals submit a number espousing their own view on the matter.

Though both sides could then choose to meet somewhere in the middle, and settle at an amount between the two salary figures, the alternative is taking the matter to a hearing. But once that happens, there is no middle-ground to be found; the arbitrator will hear arguments from both sides, and pick a winner whose previously submitted figure will determine the player's salary for 2021.

It's a process that can be uncomfortable, as teams must verbally minimize value of a member of their own organization. That's partially why the Cardinals had a long established precedent under which they tried to avoid these situations making it to hearing. A shift to that strategy in recent years led to an arbitration hearing involving Michael Wacha in 2017, the team's first since 1999. The Cardinals won that hearing in Wacha's first arb-eligible season.

Flaherty, who hasn't battled the injury concerns that Wacha had to that point in his career, could conceivably find a more favorable result if his case reaches a trial. Though Flaherty's 2020 numbers represented a decline from his previous season, the nature of the pandemic's impact on baseball--and on the Cardinals, in particular--should render those raw statistics as only a small piece of what would be considered by an arbitration panel.

As for the salaries of the Cardinals who agreed to deals Friday, the team does not disclose those amounts. Reports, however, have indicated that Bader will earn $2 million for 2021, with salaries for Reyes and Hicks set at $900,000 and $862,500, respectively.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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