Brett Cecil passed his physical Monday morning and signed a four-year, $30.5-million free-agent deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Cecil, 30, was 1-7 with a 3.93 ERA in 54 games with the Toronto Blue Jays last season. He will help offset the loss of Zach Duke, who underwent Tommy John surgery in early November and will miss the 2017 season.
Kevin Siegrist is the only other healthy left-hander in the Cardinals’ bullpen. Tyler Lyons will miss the early portion of the season following knee surgery.
“This means a lot,” Cecil said at a Busch Stadium press conference. “This organization is very rich in baseball history. They have a winning tradition. When all the teams were being mentioned and St. Louis came along, it was very exciting for me and my family to hear that they were interested. We knew in our hearts this was the right move for us.”
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To make room for Cecil on their 40-man roster, the Cardinals designated catcher Brayan Pena for assignment. Pena signed a two-year, $5-million contract last offseason.
Cecil was willing to wait to sign a deal, but in hindsight, he expressed relief that he could come to terms with the Cardinals before the holidays.
“This being my first time in free agency, I was pretty much just going along with what the agent’s suggestions were,” said Cecil, who is represented by ACES. “Honestly, I didn’t know when it was going to happen, how it was going to happen. I do like to get these types of things over and done with as quickly as possible. That way, I can get my focus more towards offseason preparation to come to spring training ready to go.”
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak called the signing was perhaps the “worst-kept secret we’ve had in a while based on all your Tweets and what you’ve written about” since Saturday when word of the deal circulated.
“A lot of people are asking, ‘Why four years?’” he said. “It’s a couple of things. The market was really moving on this one. I think Brett will be happy to tell you he had a lot of interest in him, and we certainly valued him being a part of our organization. As we looked at the market, we felt like he would be the key person to help us in securing a very strong bullpen moving forward. Also, he gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Cecil is proud of his versatility. He even has 11 saves in his career.
“I’ve done everything, from starting to long-relieving, sixth inning, seventh inning, eighth inning, ninth inning,” he said. “My flexibility is limitless.”
Mozeliak said the injury to Duke forced the Cardinals to reassess their depth from the left side of the bullpen.
“When we made that move for Zach Duke (July 31), we thought we were buying ourselves (time) through at least 2017,” Mozeliak said. “Unfortunately, the injury happened. I will say, though, that sometimes with injuries, opportunities present themselves. That’s exactly what we felt like with Brett. ... Someone that’s left-handed, someone that can pitch the seventh, eighth or ninth, makes a lot of sense for us.”
Cecil, who will wear No. 21, was a starter in the first three-plus year of his career from 2009-12. He limited left-handed batters to a .226/.281/.344 slash line in an eight-year career, all with the Blue Jays.
“I like to pitch inside. I think it’s very important,” said Cecil, who is 41-42 with a 4.20 ERA in 330 career games, including 74 starts. “I’m not scared to pitch inside. Righties or lefties, it doesn’t matter. I think that’s why I have a lot of success against righties as well. I like to pitch inside.”
Cecil suffered a lat tear last May and struggled to a 5.14 ERA in 21 games in the first half of the season. He was much better in the second half, logging a 3.18 ERA in 33 games. Left-handed batters hit .258 against Cecil in the injury-plagued season, including six home runs in 36 2/3 innings. Cecil walked eight and struck out 45.
“The lat issue was kind of an accumulating thing,” Cecil said. “We tried to let it rest. We tried to let it heal. It wasn’t working. I was sidelined for six weeks. It’s like I had to almost start spring training over again in the middle of the season. It took me a little bit to get going. But toward August and the end of the season and the playoffs, I was beginning to feel like my old self again.”
Cecil said he doesn’t know any of his new Cardinals teammates.
“I can say I’ve heard a lot of great things about St. Louis – the city, the baseball club and the players on the team,” he said. “I have yet to hear anything negative. It’s a baseball city. That influenced our decision to come here a lot.”