Cardinals: Taking Tyler O’Neill to arbitration hearing is a huge mistake

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Tyler O'Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts as he walks to the dugout after their 3 to 1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the National League Wild Card Game at Dodger Stadium on October 06, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Tyler O'Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts as he walks to the dugout after their 3 to 1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the National League Wild Card Game at Dodger Stadium on October 06, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Taking Tyler O’Neill to arbitration hearing is a huge mistake and could potentially cost the St. Louis Cardinals a relationship with its young star.

On Tuesday, players and teams negotiated their 2022 salaries to avoid arbitration, and most of the deals got done. But there was one notable name for the St. Louis Cardinals that did not get done, and that’s Tyler O’Neill.

And it would be a massive mistake if the Cardinals took him to an arbitration hearing.

There are horror stories every year about players going to arbitration hearings, listening to the team openly critique the player and share why they aren’t worth a certain amount of money. It can fray relationships and in some cases, lead to a player demanding a trade. I’m not saying that will happen with O’Neill. What I’m saying is there is the risk of it, and doing so could potentially alter the Cardinals franchise for the next decade.

O’Neill talked about it with reporters on Wednesday morning, pulling them out of the clubhouse to keep the business side separate from the actual game of baseball. He said that he was “surprised” by the Cardinals’ arbitration filing – $3.4 million while he filed at $4.15 million – while adding: “I thought there was going to be a little more urgency on the matter.”

The Cardinals would be very smart to get this deal done and avoid an arbitration hearing altogether. After all, the 26-year-old O’Neill is coming off a season in which he hit .286/.352/.560 with 34 home runs and 80 RBI, and looks like an annual MVP-caliber player.

Messing with that relationship, and potentially damaging it, would be a grave mistake for the Cardinals. It’s extremely unlikely that they agree to a long-term extension, considering that his agent, Scott Boras, is known for having his players hit free agency so they can establish their value on the open market.

But just settling on a 2022 salary for O’Neill should be priority No. 1. The risk is not worth the reward of saving less than $1 million.

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