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2023: Flaherty’s Last Season as a Cardinal?

Jack Flaherty photo via St. Louis Cardinals (Twitter)

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty is entering his final year under contract this season, leaving many to wonder if the team will pursue him once he hits free agency or if this will be his last season in a Cardinals uniform.

I think it’s a forgone conclusion that Jack will at least test the market at the end of 2023, and I don’t see the Cardinals trying to negotiate an extension prior to or during the season.

Flaherty spent most of last year on the IL from a shoulder injury that sidelined him during Spring Training and carried over to the beginning of the season.

Jack Flaherty photo credit: Getty Images

The Cardinals rotation definitely took a hit without having Jack at the top of it, and thus the team began the season experimenting with Jordan Hicks and others as starters to fill that void.

They were also not wanting to rush Flaherty back, erring on the side of caution upon easing him back into his starting role. Jack got his first start of the Cardinals 2022 season on June 15th, striking out 3, giving up 3 hits, with a pair of runs & pair of walks in 3 innings of work vs the Pittsburgh Pirates at home.

His second start was a week later vs the Brewers in Milwaukee where he again gave up 3 hits and a pair of runs, with just one strikeout in 3 innings. Five days later at home vs the Chicago Cubs, in his third start, didn’t give up a run but only lasted 2 innings with a pair of strikeouts before being pulled with shoulder tightness.

Jack Flaherty photo credit: Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

This landed Flaherty on the 60-day IL and although he was hopeful to return by the end of 2022, some were skeptical. But he did eventually return on Sept 5. vs the Washington Nationals, and struck out 6, walked 1 and gave up 1 run in 5 innings. Jack pitched 5 or more innings in each of his next 4 outings, ending his 2022 campaign with a 2-1 record (8 starts) 4.25 ERA, 33 strikeouts & 22 walks in 36 innings.

Jack Flaherty photo credit: Gregory Bull/AP Photo

Entering his final season under contract, Flaherty will have something to prove. While nobody can question his ace-like stuff, he’s only logged a combined 114.1 MLB innings the past 2 seasons. If he remains healthy for the Cardinals in 2023, he’ll likely be slotted near the top of the rotation and provide them with the swing & miss stuff that they desperately need from the right-hander.

Flaherty, who is just 27 years old, still has a huge upside and holds value. Expecting him to duplicate his 2019 season of going 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA, and having 231 strikeouts in 196.1 innings might be a stretch, but it’s not unrealistic to think he can get back to being a top arm in the league.

Jack Flaherty photo credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

From 2017-2022, Flaherty has a career 34-25 record, 3.41 ERA & 600 strikeouts in 523.1 innings. In 102 games (98 starts), he has a 10.3 K/9 rate and is just 52 strikeouts away from being in the Top 25 leaders in franchise history.

Many Cardinals fans that I see talking about Jack’s future in St. Louis, already have him out the door at season’s end. Pegging him as a lock to leave and sign with a west coast team (namely the Los Angeles Dodgers), and I admit, I’m in the camp of thinking that too is where he’ll end up. We put a poll up (pictured above) on our Cardinals Nation 24/7 Twitter account and currently more than 75% of fans who answered felt that Flaherty would not be back with the Cardinals after this season.

Jack Flaherty & Adam Wainwright photo credit: Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

That isn’t saying I don’t want Flaherty to remain a Cardinal, as I’d love for him to take the torch from Adam Wainwright and be the ace of the staff for years to come. But I think so many things factor into it, that it keeps me from being confident that retaining him beyond 2023 will happen.

Obviously the recent injuries have been a concern as well as what seemed like friction with the front office (from an outside point of view) on Flaherty’s rehabbing. There were those that also felt the two sides clashed a bit when going into an arbitration hearing prior to the 2021 season, but I don’t think there was much fire to that smoke.

Jack Flaherty photo credit: Philip G. Pavely/USA Today Sports

There is also the realization that along with Flaherty, 2023 is the last season that fellow Cardinals starters Miles Mikolas & Jordan Montgomery are under contract. That doesn’t mean they can’t be re-signed or extended, but it’s unclear how this rotation will look a year from now. This season will also be the final one for Adam Wainwright, which will open up yet another starting spot and frees up some payroll.

So in not knowing what the Cardinals rotation will look like in 2024 aside from probables Steven Matz & Dakota Hudson, they will surely be in the market for starting pitching. I’m just not sure once Flaherty hits free agency that St. Louis will want to get in a bidding war with the likes of the Dodgers, Giants & Angels on west coast and the likes of the Yankees & others on the east coast.

Jack Flaherty photo credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

FanGraphs currently has Flaherty projected to go 9-9 with a 4.12 ERA, pitching 148 innings (26 starts) with 138 strikeouts next season. While that’s a very reasonable projection I think he’ll be determined to better that outcome in his “walk-year”.

One thing is for certain, both Jack Flaherty & the Cardinals will benefit in 2023 if he has a stellar season that we all hope for.

Jack Flaherty photo credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

What are your thoughts on Flaherty and his future with St. Louis? Do you believe he’ll have a dominant 2023 for the Cardinals? Do you think this season will be his last wearing the Birds on a Bat? Do you think the front office makes him a priority to re-sign? Or are you in the belief that he’ll be offered & accept a high dollar contract to pitch elsewhere next offseason? Let me know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

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