The St. Louis Cardinals haven’t yet been willing to gamble on signing a premium free agent. But they’re rolling the dice in their efforts to revamp their bullpen by signing Andrew Miller to a multi-year contract.
It’s a move that could be huge — or it could be a disaster.
Miller, who will be 34 early next season, was arguably the best lefty reliever in baseball for a three-year span. He altered the way teams looked at their bullpen by becoming more than a standard lefty who enters games in key situations to neutralize a lefty batter. He was almost like a Bruce Sutter type closer who could come into games and throw two or even three innings if he had to. That’s an awesome weapon for a manager to be able to unleash. But he spent three stints on the disabled list in 2018 including one late in the year for a shoulder problem that lingered on. Shoulder issues can be dicey for a hurler. If they have to change their arm angle just a little bit, it can render their once nasty repertoire mediocre. It’s not being overly dramatic to wonder if the southpaw’s best days are behind him.
There’s no doubt that the Birds need bullpen help, especially from the left side. Something had to be done. The team was rumored to be conversing with a number of other clubs about trade options to land a lefty reliever and, obviously, the St. Louis front office thought it made more sense to open the vault and out-bid other suitors for Miller instead of paying the price in talent for a younger pitcher — but one without Miller’s upside.
I’ve said before that I think the Redbirds’ wealth of young pitching might work against them because it emboldens other general managers to increase their asking price. They’ll hold out for the crown jewels figuring they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by asking for Dakota Hudson or Jack Flaherty for a bridge player. If that’s what was going on, I’m sure glad St. Louis went for Miller instead of a trade.
That being said, we’ve heard all about how the Cardinals can’t “afford” to go after free agent slugger Bryce Harper because they already have nearly $50 million tied up in left field over the next three years paying for free agent bust Dexter Fowler. Why do the Birds need the likes of Miller? Because they overpaid for lefty reliever Brett Cecil two years ago and he hasn’t come close to being able to do his job effectively over his two seasons wearing the Birds on the Bat. It’s very likely that the arrival of Miller could cause St. Louis to eat the remainder of the $30.5 million it guaranteed Cecil.
While a lot of fans would like to see the Cardinals sign a dominant and established closer this winter, the odds of that are slim. But that’s OK with me. I’d like to see the team make use of the young pitching talent it has in house instead of shipping some of those guys off in trade or stunting their growth by putting a veteran in front of them. With as many starting pitchers as they have, I’d like to see the Birds leave Carlos Martinez in the ninth innings, at least for the time being.
I’ve heard people say that he’s too talented to be limited to closing games. First, I’d say that nothing is forever. Just because Martinez is the best option the Cardinals have to close games right now doesn’t mean he has to stay in that role forever. Give youngster Jordan Hicks a chance to polish his control and his secondary pitches before you count on him with a one run lead against the heart of the Chicago Cubs batting order in the ninth. Second, Martinez has logged a lot of innings over the past few years and it seems as if his arm has started to show the wear and tear. Let him take it easy for the first half of the season by pitching three or four innings a week instead making two starts. If Hicks takes off, or if Alex Reyes settles into a bullpen job, Martinez can rejoin the rotation at mid-season and be fresh for the push to the playoffs. If Hicks and Reyes falter, the Birds can look for a different closer option in a year and move Martinez back to the rotation.