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JUPITER, Fla. — In his first comments to the St. Louis media since besting the Cardinals’ in an arbitration hearing and winning a substantial raise for himself, Jack Flaherty mapped the three routes that young players can take in Major League Baseball’s current system.

They can strike it rich like Fernando Tatis Jr. did this past week with San Diego and the $340-million contract that comes just two years into his career. They can move on an extension early as Ronald Acuna Jr. did with the Braves several years ago.

Or they can go as Washington phenom Juan Soto has, year to year.

Flaherty has found himself on that latter path.

The righthander said the arbitration process “is not a fun process” and he used a synonym for “stinks.” He said he has to focus on the things he can “control,” and that the offer of an extension or multi-year contract from the Cardinals was not something he could control so it wasn’t on his mind. The Post-Dispatch asked him if he saw becoming a free agent when first eligible an inevitability.

“I don’t think it is inevitable,” Flaherty said. “That’s saying that things are already determined. And if you think I’ve looked two years forward then I don’t think you know me. We stay in the present. We stay in the present moment of what’s going on right now. That’s something that is two years away for me to say, yes, it’s inevitable means I’ve looked that far ahead. No, no, not at all. We stay right here. We stay in this moment, and again free agency – I can’t control what happens at this point. I control right here. I can control this conversation. That’s all we can work on.”

Flaherty and his agent argued successful for a $3.9 million salary for the coming season, well above the $3 million the Cardinals offered. The decision is the first arbitration the Cardinals have lost in nearly 30 years.

Flaherty, 25, faced hitters Tuesday for the first time this spring. In a live batting practice session on Field 4, he threw to a collection of outfielders, including Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. Harrison Bader was in the hitting group set to face Flaherty, but Bader had been replaced by Scott Hurst. Bader had some followup tests after his physical Monday. The team was not concerned that he would miss additional workouts, and Bader joined the media for a Zoom conference later in the day.

Flaherty said that he felt good, was eager to face hitters, and would prefer them to be hitters with an opposing team.

In 2020, Flaherty went 4-3 with a 4.91 ERA – the results and his erratic schedule were not the encore expected from one of the top young righthanded pitchers in the majors. The previous year he had established himself as a rising Cy Young Award candidate with one of the best second half performances in baseball history. He also led the National League in WHIP, at 0.968, and had a 2.75 ERA in 196 1/3 innings. This past summer, he was the Cardinals opening day starter – and then went almost a month without pitching because of the COVID-19 outbreak and concern about his use. He made only nine starts and wasn’t at his sharpest until the final Cardinals game of the season – a playoff loss to Tatis’ Padres in San Diego.

While Flaherty faced hitters on Field 4, Adam Wainwright threw live BP on Field 2, and Carlos Martinez threw live BP on Field 3. All four fields on the George Kissell Quad were going with live BP at the same time, and on Field 5 was John Gant, who is vying for a spot in the rotation.

Wainwright drew Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, and Yadier Molina as the hitters he faced in his first round of live BP.

Two other starters, Miles Mikolas and Kwang Hyun Kim, threw bullpen sessions. Manager Mike Shildt has referred to a handful of veterans, including reliever Andrew Miller, as “pace cars” this spring. The idea is that they know the pace they need to get ready. Kim is in that group. A year ago, Kim joined the Cardinals as a rookie, jetting over from the KBO where he had been one of the leagues most reliable starters. The Cardinals had Kim compete for a spot in the rotation and the bullpen, and when the shortened 2020 season began Kim got the save on opening night.

Within a week he was in the rotation as one the Cardinals’ reliable lefties.

The Cardinals’ actions this winter have suggested that they see Kim as a starter for 2020, and on Tuesday their words did, too. Shildt said despite Kim having a throwing program that is a step behind other the pitchers, like Wainwright and Flaherty, that the lefty is “on time to be in our starting rotation.”

More coverage coming in Wednesday's Post-Dispatch and online at StlToday.com.

Second day of Cardinals full squad workouts

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty (22) pitches during Cardinals spring training at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. This is the second day of full team workouts as the Cardinals prepare for Grapefruit League games starting on Sunday. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

dgoold@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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