This season didn’t go like most seasons. The Cardinals were terrible. I stopped writing here very much, with nothing after the blog anniversary. However, some things must go on and that includes the Exit Interview series! Now in its 12th year, it’s our look back at each player that made an appearance in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals. We’re approaching it a little different this season, a little more literary and a little less statistical, but hopefully you enjoy it just the same. As always, I am grateful that cardinalsgifs has agreed to use his talent for the header image!
Player: Jack Flaherty
Stats (Cardinals): 7-6, 20 G, 109.2 IP, 116 H, 10 HR, 54 BB, 106 K, 4.43 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 1.550 WHIP, 1.4 bWAR
Statcast (all): 7.3% barrel, 38.5% sweet spot, 113.0 max exit velocity, .356 wOBA, .344 xwOBA, 22.8% K, 10.2% BB
Dreaming on a player is a lot of fun in the initial stages, especially when you get that tantalizing taste of the dream coming true. The problem is letting go of the dream when it starts to be clear it’s just never going to truly pan out.
Flaherty was going to combo with Alex Reyes to give the Cardinals a power top of the rotation. (Luke Weaver was in that mix as well, though he was expected to be good, not great like these two.) The Cardinals, for all their success, haven’t really developed an ace pitcher. Maybe you give them a little credit for Adam Wainwright, given he spent a year in their minors, but that was more shaping what Atlanta had started. From draft to majors, an elite pitcher has eluded them. Flaherty looked to be the exception, someone that could dominate until he reached free agency. Flaherty’s stances on employment seemed to rule out a long-term extension as he would definitely test the market and he would definitely get paid more by someone (the usual guess was the Dodgers) than the Cardinals would want to shell out.
The second half of 2019 was the culmination of all that. It was a run of pitching the likes of which we will probably not see again. From the last game of the first half until the end of that season, Flaherty put up a 0.93 ERA over 16 starts and 106.1 innings. He struck out well more than a batter per inning. We all knew he wasn’t going to channel 1968 Bob Gibson for the rest of his career but it looked like finally, finally, he was coming into his own.
What we couldn’t have known was he wouldn’t even approach that again.
You could blame 2020 on the pandemic, especially the COVID outbreak that saw the team quarantined and not play for two weeks, then forced into doubleheaders the rest of the way. 2021 looked like a bit of a return to form until he was injured and unavailable for most of the year. Injuries got him again in 2022 and even when he was pitching he wasn’t all that effective. Flaherty had gone from the pitcher the Cardinals couldn’t afford to keep in free agency to the pitcher the Cardinals weren’t likely to pursue, especially since there seemed to be some friction at times between him and the front office.
By the time the trading deadline came around in 2023, it was clear the Cardinals had to part ways. Would they have done so if they’d been in contention? Probably not but for them to be in contention that meant that Flaherty had to be pitching better. He had to be doing better than a 98 ERA+ (where 100 is league average). He had to be striking out more batters than he allowed hits to. He had to be a guy that had an ERA lower than 6.50 in the first inning. He didn’t have to be 2019 Flaherty but he had to be someone that 2019 Flaherty would have at least recognized.
If you had said in 2019 that Jack Flaherty’s tenure in St. Louis would have ended with a trade, you’d have salivated wondering what high-level talent the Cards would have gotten back. Even last year, you might have thought the club was selling low on injury but high on potential and expected an interesting return. It’s a credit to the front office that they were able to turn Flaherty into a pitcher that has already made their debut (Drew Rom), a middle infielder that had success at AAA (Cesar Prieto) and a lottery ticket pitcher (Zack Showalter). That’s a lot for a guy that the Orioles were just gambling on being effective instead of being assured he would be. The 6.75 ERA he put up in Baltimore as well as his limited impact on the postseason means that the bar is low for the Cardinals to have won this trade.
We talk about Adam Wainwright leaving as the end of an era and rightfully so but the departure of Flaherty does the same. The Cardinals currently have no real homegrown elite pitching prospects. We’ll see how Gordon Graceffo works out and Tink Hence has a good chance of being that next guy, but right now the system needs help at the top end of things. Whether it will happen remains to be seen.
What’s in store for 2024: Flaherty was hoping for a good year that would help re-establish his value on the market and put him in line for a nice multi-year deal. Pretty much the opposite happened, especially after he reached Baltimore. He’s going into his Age 28 season and he’s had a track record of at least some success so he’s going to get a deal from someone, probably a three year one, but it’s going to be much less than the money expected a couple of years ago. It’s going to be very interesting to see where he winds up.