Just two innings into his start this weekend against the Cubs, erstwhile Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty had to leave the game. It was just Flaherty’s third appearance of the season, the start of which for him was delayed by shoulder issues. Unfortunately he was feeling something in the shoulder again, was taken out of the game, and has since been put back on the Injured List.
Flaherty’s return to the big leagues earlier this month was notable because it came after just two short minor league rehab appearances, which is maybe a little less than you would expect for a guy coming off the kind of shoulder issue that had him shut down for multiple months. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but apparently that wasn’t the initial plan. And now that Flaherty is injured again, his own team president is … blaming him for the re-injury?
I know how crazy that sounds, but am I hearing this right? You tell me:
First off, of COURSE it’s your decision! You and the front office run all player decisions! Sure, a rehabbing player can push to come back sooner, but it’s not as if you have NO CHOICE but to agree.
Second, even if the player does push to come back sooner, and even if you have some misgivings but decide to go along with it, don’t later throw your player under the bus by saying “we had a plan, it was deviated from, and now he’s hurt.” Why would you put that out there publicly?
I had to go find the longer quotes from Mozeliak to make sure I was really hearing this right, and it sure looks like he made exactly the point he wanted to make (MLB.com):
“If you are asking, ‘What would you second-guess?’ I think it would be, ‘Could we have extended him longer on the rehab assignment?’ That is always possible,” Mozeliak said. “A lot of [the reason Flaherty was activated early] is based on the feedback you’re getting back from the athlete. At that point, he was very optimistic with where he was. Internally, we debated that, but ultimately, it wasn’t our decision. We laid out a plan, the plan was deviated, here we are.
“My explanation is if you’re looking at second-guessing something, it could be the fact that we didn’t stick to the original plan,” Mozeliak said.
For his part, as you can see in the video, Flaherty says he wouldn’t change anything about the rehab process, and that he felt good to go. He says he’ll be able to pitch again this year, without question. There is clearly some frustration there.
Flaherty, 26, is earning $5 million this year in arbitration, and has one more turn through arbitration next year before heading to free agency (assuming the Cardinals don’t non-tender him after this season, which would probably happen only if this shoulder injury situation gets much worse).
When he’s been healthy enough to pitch, Jack Flaherty has flashed front-of-the-rotation ability. He threw 347.1 innings in 2018 and 2019, with a 3.01 ERA and 3.64 FIP. He was striking out nearly 30% of the batters he faced, and walking just 8.2%. He was looking like a long-term ace.
But the health has been the rub the last few years (just 126.2 innings total so far in 2020-22, with a 3.91 ERA and 4.36 FIP), and it’s impossible to predict what kind of situation Flaherty will be in come the end of the 2023 season heading into free agency. Still, I like to keep tabs on him because he will still be so young at that point, and there aren’t too many pre-30 pitchers who hit free agency with the upside of a guy who can lead your rotation.
Of course, I’m hoping the Cubs find a way to add an ace THIS offseason, so it’s not like I’m waiting around for post-2023 …