Cheap Seats

Prepare for St. Louis to use Miles Mikolas extension as an excuse if it doesn’t work out

Signing starting pitcher Miles Mikolas was a move that the St. Louis Cardinals had to make.

Three of the Redbirds’ five starting pitchers could be free agents at the end of the year, as could first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and left fielder Marcell Ozuna. So the team needed to do something to plan for the big picture beyond the 2019 season.

I was concerned about whether the club and the player would be able to reach an agreement because of the intersection of two facts: Mikolas is 29 years old, yet he only has one successful season of Major League Baseball on his resume. Based on those parameters, I was concerned the St. Louis front office wouldn’t be willing to gamble enough money on its top starter of 2018 to prevent the pitcher from testing the open market at the end of the upcoming campaign.

It turns out John Mozeliak and company were, in fact, willing to gamble. They extended the pitcher by four years for $17 million a season, pretty premium pricing when we consider that a former Cy Young Award winner in Dallas Keuchel is still sitting on his sofa waiting for a general manager to give him a similar deal. My guess was that the Cardinals would have offered about half that much money for about three years, hoping Mikolas would opt for the financial security over the chance to cash in bigger over the winter. The fact that the offseason bidding has been extremely slow only seemed to be in their favor.

As I said, it was a deal it seemed the team’s brain trust felt it needed to make. But that’s doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be a success.

The two largest contracts in team history, the $120-million, seven-year contract the team reached with Matt Holliday and the $100-million pact for seven years with Albert Pujols, were unqualified successes. It was the contract to Mike Leake after the team let David Price wiggle off the hook that was — and still is — devastating. Then there was the over-pay for Dexter Fowler, who was the worst player in the National League last year and is penciled in to start in the outfield over the next three seasons that is the anti-gift that keeps on giving.

If Mikolas turns out to be a one-season wonder, the front office is going to use him as an excuse as to why they can’t afford to sign anyone else in 2022 and 2023. I’ve heard people say that $17 million is a reasonable price for a number three starter. But I was sort of hoping that Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber or Alex Reyes could be decide among themselves who would be the third, fourth and fifth starters for the next couple of years. Mikolas needs to pitch like a number two if not a number one. Let’s hope 2018 wasn’t a mirage and that’s what we’re going to get from the Lizard King over the life of this contract.

Why did St. Louis sign Matt Wieters?

In a more surprising move Tuesday, the Cardinals inked catcher Matt Wieters to a minor league contract. And I’m worried about why.

The official word was that the team wanted to create some competition behind starter Yadier Molina. But is that really necessary? The team knows what it’s getting in re-signed backup Francisco Pena who handled the job capably last year. The Cardinals said that it’s hard to find a backup who is willing to accept the role as understudy to Molina who likes to play as much as possible every season. So... is the fact that the team decided it needed a backup capable of playing more than it originally expected a sign that Molina isn’t going to bounce back from knee surgery as quickly as originally thought?

Wieters, who will soon be 33, hit .238 last year in part time duty with the Nats. But it wasn’t that long ago he was good for 20 plus homers a year as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. So it could be a high upside move for St. Louis, although it would be a bummer for Pena, who did an admirable job with his limited opportunities last season. It just isn’t easy to hit or to find a defensive rhythm when you play once every week or two. If I was Wieters, I probably wouldn’t be happy getting about 150 at-bats a year. So let’s hope there isn’t something more to this story.