Jeff Passan of ESPN reported on Thursday night that the Detroit Tigers and 28-year-old right-handed starter Jack Flaherty are in agreement on a one-year deal for $14M. The deal has incentives for reaching various numbers of starts in the 2024 season that could make it worth $15M total. As Scott Harris has said repeatedly this offseason, “you can’t have enough pitching.”
Flaherty broke into the league as a 21-year-old back in 2017 with the St. Louis Cardinals, who had drafted him out of high school in the 2014 MLB draft. He put together a nice full season in 2018, and then peaked with a fantastic 4.7 fWAR, 196 1⁄3 innings campaign in 2019. At that point he finished fourth in voting for the National League Cy Young award, but that has proved the high water mark in his career.
Flaherty was a little off during the short 2020 season, but It wasn’t until oblique and shoulder strains limited him to 15 starts in 2021 that his career really nosedived. In 2022, Flaherty required shoulder surgery during spring training. He returned for a couple of abysmal short outings in June, then went back on the injured list until September. His performance was better, but Flaherty really struggled with the walks and that lack of control has plagued him ever since.
This season, Flaherty’s performance was better. He still walked a lot of hitters, 10.2 percent, to be exact, but that was an improvement over 2022. The strikeout rate ticked back up a little, particularly once Flaherty was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles, and he was still able to keep the home runs in check. He had a few blowup starts along the way, but posted a decent 4.99 ERA/4.36 FIP for the year. More importantly, other than minor calf issue he was able to stay on the mound and make 27 starts.
Clearly the Tigers are convinced that can bring him farther along the comeback trail.
Jack Flaherty 2021-2023
Flaherty’s fastball is still effective despite losing 1.2 mph since 2019. He sat 93.1 mph in 2023, but good extension and a shifty fourseamer continued to draw a solid enough whiff rate and was rarely hit hard in the air. He’s largely abandoned his little used changeup, mixing in his solid mid-70’s curveball and working on developing an 88 mph cutter instead, but when he made mistakes with the cutter or the slider this season, they were punished.
The main issues for Flaherty are that his slider just isn’t the outstanding breaking ball it was early in his career, and he continues to issue too many free passes. The movement profile on the slider still looks pretty close to prime levels, so both issues appear due to loss of command. Lots of shoulder trouble will do that to you.
The Orioles didn’t have Flaherty that long, and the Cardinals just aren’t a particularly good organization in terms of pitching development in my opinion. So it’s certainly possible that Flaherty can take another step up in production under the leadership of Chris Fetter and Robin Lund. The latter’s biomechanics background could be of assistance in helping Flaherty clean up his delivery and improve his command without falling to the injury bug yet again. Still it would be a mistake to expect Flaherty to get back to his 2019 form again.
Overall this is an okay deal for the Tigers with some potential that Flaherty can get back to being a consistent mid-rotation starter. On the other hand, it’s a bit of an odd deal right now in that the Tigers didn’t get a club option for 2025. So if they’re able to help Flaherty they aren’t going to profit all that much from it. Sure they likely will have enough depth to trade someone like Flaherty without hurting their own chances in the AL Central race, but they have an awful lot of starting pitchers at the major league level at this point already. What they really needed was another frontline starter and a good hitting infielder.
Tarik Skubal, Kenta Maeda, Reese Olson, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Sawyer Gipson-Long, and now Flaherty are all starters. The Tigers also have four solid to good caliber pitching prospects at the Triple-A level in the form of Keider Montero, Ty Madden, Wilmer Flores, and Brant Hurter. Certainly spring usually comes with injuries, so adding Flaherty provides some insurance, and the right-hander has some relief experience as well should that suit the situation better. Still, that’s an awful lot of starters on hand. Should the Tigers get through most of the spring without many injuries, it seems likely that they would be open to trading a starting pitcher at that point, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Personally, what I didn’t want to see, was the type of multi-year deal for an average starter that someone like Seth Lugo got from the Royals. The Tigers need serious upgrades, not just more solid production. But since they apparently won’t compete for anyone good, adding Flaherty is an okay move. If they can get some innings out of him, that’s fine, and he won’t really be in the way of the Tigers prospects. Instead he may help buy time for those young pitchers to work out of Toledo for a few months before getting tested at the major league level.
However, if the Tigers do have a fairly healthy spring camp, and Flaherty ends up bumping someone like Manning or Gipson-Long to Toledo, I’m not real sure what we’re doing here. Even if things go great, and the Tigers get Flaherty back in pretty good form, they didn’t get a club option for 2025, so you’d think he’ll be traded this summer. Still, a lot can happen along the way, so as another bit of insurance for the rotation, you could do a good deal worse than adding Jack Flaherty. At his best he was a very good starting pitcher, and it will be interesting to see if the Tigers can help him take the next step on his comeback trail.
Like all their moves this offseason, this signing is another small scale, conservative signing that reinforces the roster but doesn’t really do that much to put a more talented team on the field in 2024. From that perspective it’s disappointing, but in isolation it’s a perfectly reasonable signing and maybe the Tigers are able to help him build on his first full, relatively injury free season since 2019. If they can, perhaps it opens up the possibility of trading a starting pitcher without hurting the rotation. If not, there’s no long-term commitment and they can try him in the bullpen or flip him elsewhere when one of the prospects are ready.