Jack Flaherty Has Become a Top Trade Target, and the Tigers Should Capitalize

Jack Flaherty is pitching like a Cy Young candidate, and the Detroit Tigers would be smart to cash in while his value is high.

Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the first inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field.
CLEVELAND, OHIO - MAY 06: Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty #9 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the first inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on May 06, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Less than one year ago, the Cardinals traded Jack Flaherty to the Orioles for César Prieto (then the O’s No. 16 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), Drew Rom (No. 18) and Zack Showalter. Once thought of as the future of the Cardinals rotation, Flaherty was shipped out for a couple of mid-level prospects, albeit from a deep organization.

The right-hander, who finished top five in Cy Young voting at 23 years old, pitched his way out of Baltimore’s rotation after just seven starts down the stretch. He moved to the bullpen, where he did more sitting than pitching.

From September 15 through the end of the season, Flaherty only appeared in two games in relief, finishing his Orioles stint with a robust 6.75 ERA.

In many ways, this was a deciding point in Flaherty’s career. He had reached free agency with injury and command issues overshadowing a promising start to his career that felt like decades ago.

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Presumably, multi-year deals were not on the table, and Flaherty was looking for a bounce-back opportunity instead. He needed a one-year deal on which he could prove the talent is still there and, after his age-28 season, enter free agency again with a chance to cash in.

The Detroit Tigers were that opportunity, signing Flaherty to a one-year, $14 million contract. Playing in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark as part of a well-regarded pitching staff has helped Flaherty get his career back on the right path. So far, so good.

What Has Made Flaherty Successful

To an extent, Flaherty’s success has been overshadowed by Tarik Skubal’s Cy Young-level season.

However, Flaherty is not far off from that conversation, too. As of June 18, Flaherty has logged 77.2 innings with a 3.01 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 100 strikeouts and 11 walks. Flaherty dropped his BB/9 from 4.12 last season to 1.27 this season.

Finding the zone more consistently without the tradeoff of giving up more hard contact has done wonders for the righty. In fact, his opponents’ barrel percentage and hard-hit rate have both dropped from 2023. Getting ahead in counts has allowed him to work his craft, leading to a jump in strikeout rate of more than 10%.

One pitch in particular that has performed well is his slider:

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Batters are hitting .221 off Flaherty’s slider compared to .339 last season. He’s putting up a 41.3% whiff rate on the pitch, more than a 15% increase from last season. He’s also used it against lefties more than he has at any point in his career.

The overall plan for how to attack batters and how he sequences his pitches all starts with his command. To put it simply, batters are not reaching base against Flaherty nearly as often as they have in the past. He has had two outings where he walked two batters; all of his other starts have had one or fewer walks. In 2023, he walked at least two batters in 17 outings.

By limiting walks and striking out 33% of batters, Flaherty has been pitching with the bases empty far more often. Obviously, that’s always a plus, but when you consider Flaherty gives up home runs at a 15% clip, it’s even better. Solo home runs won’t hurt you too badly.

A lot can change between now and the deadline, and especially between now and the offseason. Just last year we saw Eduardo Rodriguez have a stretch of dominance in the first half before injury and regression made us all but forget about it.

But let’s just say Flaherty stays healthy and continues to pitch at a high level. The Tigers, currently four games under .500 (as of June 18), have a big decision to make.

To Trade or Extend?

I’m sure Tigers fans are sick and tired of good players being shipped out to better teams for a package that may or may not ever pan out. I get it. At some point, you want to keep good players and actually be competitive. However, you have to look at each situation individually.

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First: Would the player in question want to re-sign with the Tigers?

In Flaherty’s case, I’m sure staying in Detroit would be something he’d be interested in. He’s pitched well and obviously has found something that clicked. But, keep in mind, he’s going to want to cash in. He’ll hit the open market at age 29 coming off a much better season.

You need to look at comparable deals in recent years to understand what a new contract for Flaherty might look like:

Sonny Gray343$25 MM
Eduardo Rodriguez314$20 MM
Lucas Giolito302$19.25 MM
Marcus Stroman332$18.50 MM
Carlos Rodón306$27 MM
Chris Bassitt343$21 MM
Taijuan Walker304$18 MM
Jameson Taillon314$17 MM
Robbie Ray305$23 MM
Kevin Gausman315$22 MM

Now, the question is which of these pitchers Flaherty is better than, and projects to be better than, throughout his next contract.

Giolito getting over $19 million per year after nearly posting a 5.00 ERA across three teams in 2023 is scary. Two similar situations would be those of Robbie Ray and Carlos Rodón. Both had fantastic seasons after years of injury and underperformance, and they rolled that into big contracts. Both have also dealt with injuries, again, after those deals.

Second: Do the Tigers want to put that money toward Flaherty, or would they rather spend it elsewhere on the roster?

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Although there’s not a salary cap in MLB, teams still work in a limited resource environment. That limit changes depending on the team/owner, but we know the Tigers are not throwing around money like some of the top teams.

Signing Flaherty would likely mean not signing a significant upgrade for the lineup or not extending Skubal (regardless of how likely or unlikely such an extension is). I think this team’s need for offensive help is greater than the need for pitching.

Third: Do the Tigers have internal options ready to take over?

We all know Jackson Jobe, a top-10 prospect in all of baseball, is tracking toward a debut in 2025 if not late 2024. We’ve already seen a glimpse of Keider Montero and the now-injured Sawyer Gipson-Long.

Ty Madden, Jayden Hamm, Troy Melton, and others are all, at the very least, intriguing with various degrees of upside. Sure, they won’t all work out, and injuries can spiral development, but it is not as if this farm system is empty of options.

Lastly: The Tigers can cash in at the highest value.

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Flaherty’s return will be significantly better this year than what the Orioles gave up at last year’s deadline. For teams looking for just a rental, he is going to be one of, if not the, best option available.

Scott Harris and the front office are still in the early stages of building up their foundation and have an opportunity to add multiple prospects who can hopefully help down the road. I know, I know, we have all heard that before. But, we know that’s attractive to the organization.

In the end, I think the Tigers are going to look at the roster and the standings, realistically understand this is not the year, and move Flaherty.

If I am Flaherty, I want to get to free agency and see what other teams are willing to offer. Deals work both ways, and Flaherty, to this point, has earned the long-term stability I am sure he is looking for.