If you told me after the 2019 season that Jack Flaherty would not be with the Cardinals in 2024, and would instead be signing a one-year, $14 million deal with the Tigers, I probably would have thought you were crazy.
At age 23 and his second full big league season, Flaherty had finished fourth in Cy Young voting after a historic second-half performance and finished the year with a 2.75 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 196.1 innings of work. I think we tend to forget just how incredible of a player Flaherty was early in his Cardinal career.
After the coming out part in 2019, Flaherty struggled to stay on the mound and experienced a variety of injuries and setbacks that kept him from reaching his full potential. In 2021, Flaherty began pitching like a top-of-the-rotation starter once again, but injuries once again got the best of him, and we haven't seen that elite talent from him since.
The Cardinals dealt Flaherty to the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline last year, and things went from bad to worse there. He made just 7 starts for them being moved to the bullpen, posting a 6.75 ERA in 34.2 innings.
No one expected Flaherty to get a huge deal in free agency after how the last few seasons have gone. There were thoughts that maybe a team like the Dodgers would add him to their rotation to beef up their depth, but after adding Shohei Ohtani and Tyler Glasnow, that appeared less likely.
Detroit to me feels like a perfect landing spot for Flaherty. The Tigers are flying under the radar for a lot of fans, but they should be contenders for the AL Central crown next season. They signed Kenta Maeda over from the Twins earlier this offseason and have a really great number-one starter in Tarik Skubal at the top of their rotation, so Flaherty can jump into the group without major expectations on his shoulders.
While that would have been the case with a team like the Dodgers, the spotlight is much bigger for them than it is in Detroit. Flaherty can spend 2024 proving to baseball that he's still got what it takes to be a top-end starter in this league. If he's able to have a bounce-back season, he'll hit the market again going into his age-29 season, so he can still get a nice long-term contract to secure himself with next offseason.
I'm rooting for Flaherty and hope this fresh start does him well. We've seen the heights he can reach when he's healthy and sharp, and the game of baseball is better when he's right. Not all baseball careers are linear, some guys have to go through some weird stretches to get to their destination. I hope that all of the frustrating detours that Flaherty has had to take in recent years lead him back to the path we all thought he was on just a few years ago.