BERNIE BITS: 

As you know by now, starting pitcher Jack Flaherty won his arbitration case against the Cardinals. The club submitted a $3 million offer for his 2021 salary. He sought $3.9 million. Flaherty triumphed. And celebrated … on Twitter. 

The arbitration was the latest match of financial arm wrestling match between the Cardinals and their 25-year-old ace. I’ve never really understood the beefing between Flaherty and the Cardinals over every last dollar. 

I mean, yes, I understand it from Flaherty’s standpoint. He’s a strong union man, and takes stands on principle to challenge MLB’s compensation system. 

But I’ve never heard a good, sensible explanation for why the Cardinals have been OK with antagonizing him over a relatively small amount of major-league money. And though he can do what he wants, I don’t get why Flaherty thinks it’s a smart idea to direct social-media zingers at the team. He’s a maverick. Great. There’s only about 300 million mavericks on Twitter. (But Flaherty is funny, I must say.) 

Flaherty went from prospect to punisher in the two seasons leading into the truncated 2020 schedule. In 61 starts made over 2018-2019, he pitched to a 3.01 ERA with a 30 percent strikeout rate and averaged 3.6 WAR per season. He finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2018, and earned positive recognition as the No. 4 vote-getter in the NL’s 2019 Cy Young award balloting. 

But he didn’t get much done in 2020, and the hard-contact rate against him jumped significantly. I think it’s OK to mention that. Not a personal attack, Jack. That said, his baseball-card ERA (4.91) was misleading. His fielding independent ERA (4.11) and expected ERA (3.42) were more on the mark. 

None of that matters now. Now that Flaherty is into the arbitration stage of his career the future really, really counts. For both sides. And there are so many variables: the stability of the 2021 schedule, the owners’ revenue flow, the potential for serious labor conflict after the ‘21 season, and (hopefully) a new collective bargaining agreement for 2022. 

Will the owners doggedly protect their luxury-tax system that serves as a de facto salary cap? An abolishment of the luxury tax would increase the financial fortune of players in Flaherty’s position. Provided, of course, that Flaherty continues to pitch like an ace. 

I suppose the best thing to hope for is three great years from Flaherty before he leaves as a free agent in advance of the 2024 season. Over the three seasons Flaherty’s commanding presence would give the Cardinals a better chance to go as far as they can go. 

Or — if it comes to this — the Cardinals can benefit from a high-value Flaherty by trading him before he cashes in as a free agent. 

What’s that? 

You say the Cardinals should make every attempt to sign Jack Flaherty rather than watch walk to his hometown Dodgers in 2024? Well, if he’s still thriving as a No. 1 starter — yes, I agree. All of that depends on his performance … and the likely value set by the free-agent market. Again, with a new CBA looming in the distance, we can’t be sure of MLB’s economic landscape by 2024. 

Two questions:

1. Does Flaherty seem like a discount-giving athlete to you? If he’s one of the top five (or so) starting pitchers in the majors for the next three years, do you really believe Flaherty will acquiesce and accept short money from the Cardinals?

2. Does Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. seem like a “What The Hell, Pay Him Whatever It Takes, Pay Him Whatever He Wants” type of negotiator?

I presume you know the answer to both questions. 

I agree that this is all premature. After all, who know what will happen over time? Perhaps Flaherty would agree to the kind of contract extension that allows the Cardinals to (in effect) buy him out of his first year of free agency. Frankly, I’d be surprised if Flaherty went for something like that. Really surprised.

But we can’t hide under the covers and make the situation go away.

Much depends on Flaherty’s pitching health, pitching prowess. He’ll set his own price through performance, and the Cardinals will have to pay him or lose him.

READING TIME 5 MINUTES: 

My favorite thing that happened locally over the sports weekend? Easy: Saint Louis U. went into the Bronx, knocked Fordham flat from the start, and rumbled to a 68-40 win. That’s three consecutive victories for the Billikens … impressive wins at that. And just like that, SLU (No. 39) is rated above Mizzou (No. 42) at KenPom. And just like that, SLU (No. 32) is ranked above Mizzou (No. 37) in the NET ratings. And just like that, SLU appeared as a No. 8 seed in Jerry Palm’s latest bracket at CBSsports.com … SLU is good. Look at the metrics. Look at how they’re ranked in the Top 50 nationally in both offensive efficiency (47th) and defensive efficiency (41st.) 

The LA Dodgers indirectly did the Cardinals a solid by agreeing to match Milwaukee’s two-year, $34 million offer to free-agent third baseman Justin Turner. Given the happy-happy-happy power-environment of the Brewers’ home park, Turner would have done a lot of damage against NL Central rivals. 

We recently passed along Keith Law’s No. 11 ranking for the Cardinals in his annual farm-system ratings. And Baseball America pretty much agrees, putting the Cardinals at No. 12 for 2021. But ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel isn’t as impressed; he has the Cardinals at No. 18. They were 15th in his audit last year. “St. Louis didn’t do much on the minor league front in 2020,” McDaniel wrote. “Not graduating anyone of note, no big improvements/declines among the holdovers, solid additions via the draft in line with where they were drafted, etc.” 

Baseball America’s view of the Cardinals’ system: “The Cardinals are more notable for depth than top-end talent right now. Somehow a trade for Nolan Arenado didn’t do much to diminish that depth. Having five of the top 100 picks in the 2020 draft provides a number of options for high-ceiling prospects to jump onto the Top 100 Prospects list in 2022 or 2023.” 

Back to SLU: A couple of days before Saint Louis played Fordham, I asked ESPN’s Jay Bilas to assess the Billikens during his guest appearance on my KFNS radio show. 

“You can tell that they’re starting to actually get in better shape, because I can’t imagine what it was like to come back from a pause when you weren’t really even allowed to work out,” Bilas said. “During that period that’s the difficulty or among the difficulties. I think the biggest difficulty is all these players are being asked to live in isolation for seven months eight months. And, honestly, the biggest threat to their health are the coaches and staff that get to go home every night. 

“I’m a big Jordan Goodwin fan. I think he’s a great college player, and one of the best rebounders in the country. So I think SLU still will make the tournament, as long as they continue to perform. They beat LSU early. They beat NC State early. And, you know, because of the (long) pause they haven’t had the same kind of games to jack up their numbers in that NCAA NET thing — and the committee uses that like they used to use the RPI. So, I’ll be interested to see how the committee processes all of this. 

“I had a friend of mine who’s been a committee chair tell me well the human element is going to be bigger than ever. Everything is the human element. The numbers are interpreted by humans. If you have humans voting, you have the human element. But they don’t have as much data this year that they can rely upon so you’re going to be asking people without a lot of basketball judgment to make important basketball judgments. And that’s gonna screw somebody — I just don’t know who it is.”

My least favorite thing that happened over the weekend? That’s easy. Missouri responded to its elevation to No. 10 in last Monday’s AP Poll by mailing in a no-show loss at Ole Miss, followed by Saturday’s OT downer to Arkansas at home. It was unfortunate to see the Tigers yack up two hairballs after seemingly finding its most positive track of the season. And no, the absence of big man Jeremiah Tilmon for the Arkansas scrum was no excuse. That game was right there for Mizzou. But you can’t win a close one when one of your seniors (Mark Smith) misses all eight shots from the floor … or when you make only 67 percent of your free throws compared to Arkansas hitting 87% from the line. That resulted in a seven-point deficit for Mizzou in made free throws. 

Mizzou’s stumbles dropped them from a No. 2 seed to a No. 5 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracket at ESPN. Palm (CBS) downgraded Mizzou to a No. 5 seed; the Tigers had been No. 3 in his bracket. And in the latest AP poll the humans demoted Missouri from 10th to 20th. Ouch … but understandable. 

Nice pickup by the KC Royals, acquiring outfielder Andrew Benintendi from Boston in a three-team trade. The Royals’ starting outfield features Benintendi in left, Michael A. Taylor in center, and Whit Merrifield in right. Just for fun, I wanted to do a little comparison and used the ZiPS forecast to settle my curiosity. The Royals’ aforementioned starting outfield has a collective 5.2 projected Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for 2021. The Cardinals’ starting outfield — Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson — has 3.4 projected WAR.… 

JAYSON TATUM VS. BRADLEY BEAL

I spent part of my Sunday afternoon watching Celtics play the Wizards on NBA-TV in a game that featured STL locals Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum. The Wizards (7-17) surprisingly won with ease, coasting to a 114-91 victory in D.C. Beal led Washington with a game-high 35 points in only 33 minutes of play. His Sunday menu included four 3-pointers, seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Beal leads the NBA with an average of 32.9 points per game. 

Tatum struggled, scoring only six points in 23 minutes. In a lost-cause game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens wisely gave Tatum time to rest. And by all indications Tatum is wearing down. He’s played 11 games since missing five games after testing positive for COVID-19. It wasn’t a problem early on, but in his last five games Tatum has averaged 20.4 per game. That’s notable considering Tatum’s pre-COVID average of 27 points per game. And during this five game slump, Tatum has made only 35% of his shots from the floor. He was making 47.4% of his shots before being sidelined by the virus. It’s no coincidence that the Celtics have lost four of their last five. 

Tatum and Jaylen Brown are getting little help from their teammates, and fatigue is an issue. The play of the two overburdened stars prompted this understated headline (sarcasm) in the Boston Globe: “Memo to GM Danny Ainge: Get Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown help ASAP before they get destroyed.” 

Beal showed class when was asked about his friend Tatum’s poor game in Washington. “I really don’t know,” Beal told reporters via ZOOM. “It was just one of those nights for him. We all have them. I had one last week. He’s a star. He let us off the hook, for sure.”

We recently passed along Keith Law’s No. 11 ranking for the Cardinals in his annual farm-system ratings. And Baseball America pretty much agrees, putting the Cardinals at No. 12 for 2021. But ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel isn’t as impressed; he has the Cardinals at No. 18. They were 15th in his audit last year. “St. Louis didn’t do much on the minor league front in 2020,” McDaniel wrote. “Not graduating anyone of note, no big improvements/declines among the holdovers, solid additions via the draft in line with where they were drafted, etc.” 

Baseball America’s view of the Cardinals’ system: “The Cardinals are more notable for depth than top-end talent right now. Somehow a trade for Nolan Arenado didn’t do much to diminish that depth. Having five of the top 100 picks in the 2020 draft provides a number of options for high-ceiling prospects to jump onto the Top 100 Prospects list in 2022 or 2023.” 

Back to SLU: A couple of days before Saint Louis played Fordham, I asked ESPN’s Jay Bilas to assess the Billikens during his guest appearance on my KFNS radio show. 

“You can tell that they’re starting to actually get in better shape, because I can’t imagine what it was like to come back from a pause when you weren’t really even allowed to work out,” Bilas said. “During that period that’s the difficulty or among the difficulties. I think the biggest difficulty is all these players are being asked to live in isolation for seven months eight months. And, honestly, the biggest threat to their health are the coaches and staff that get to go home every night. 

“I’m a big Jordan Goodwin fan. I think he’s a great college player, and one of the best rebounders in the country. So I think SLU still will make the tournament, as long as they continue to perform. They beat LSU early. They beat NC State early. And, you know, because of the (long) pause they haven’t had the same kind of games to jack up their numbers in that NCAA NET thing — and the committee uses that like they used to use the RPI. So, I’ll be interested to see how the committee processes all of this. 

“I had a friend of mine who’s been a committee chair tell me well the human element is going to be bigger than ever. Everything is the human element. The numbers are interpreted by humans. If you have humans voting, you have the human element. But they don’t have as much data this year that they can rely upon so you’re going to be asking people without a lot of basketball judgment to make important basketball judgments. And that’s gonna screw somebody — I just don’t know who it is.”

My least favorite thing that happened over the weekend? That’s easy. Missouri responded to its elevation to No. 10 in last Monday’s AP Poll by mailing in a no-show loss at Ole Miss, followed by Saturday’s OT downer to Arkansas at home. It was unfortunate to see the Tigers yack up two hairballs after seemingly finding its most positive track of the season. And no, the absence of big man Jeremiah Tilmon for the Arkansas scrum was no excuse. That game was right there for Mizzou. But you can’t win a close one when one of your seniors (Mark Smith) misses all eight shots from the floor … or when you make only 67 percent of your free throws compared to Arkansas hitting 87% from the line. That resulted in a seven-point deficit for Mizzou in made free throws. 

Mizzou’s stumbles dropped them from a No. 2 seed to a No. 5 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracket at ESPN. Palm (CBS) downgraded Mizzou to a No. 5 seed; the Tigers had been No. 3 in his bracket. And in the latest AP poll the humans demoted Missouri from 10th to 20th. Ouch … but understandable. 

Nice pickup by the KC Royals, acquiring outfielder Andrew Benintendi from Boston in a three-team trade. The Royals’ starting outfield features Benintendi in left, Michael A. Taylor in center, and Whit Merrifield in right. Just for fun, I wanted to do a little comparison and used the ZiPS forecast to settle my curiosity. The Royals’ aforementioned starting outfield has a collective 5.2 projected Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for 2021. The Cardinals’ starting outfield — Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson — has 3.4 projected WAR.

Thanks for reading … 

-Bernie 

Listen to Bernie’s 590-AM The Fan KFNS sports-talk show weekdays from 3-6 p.m. (except Friday, 4-6 p.m.) Or stream online (and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your favorite app store. 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.