Cardinals couldn't pass up Andrew Miller

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Cardinals couldn't pass up Andrew Miller

Postby T15D23 » Mon Dec 24, 2018 12:45 am

Lefty Andrew Miller was the lottery ticket the Cardinals couldn’t pass up
Mark Saxon


Two​ brilliant young​ free​ agents​ are still​ out there, available for​ a song​ and roughly one-quarter​ of what​ the franchise​​ is worth. But since the St. Louis Cardinals have shown no indication of pursuing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, the team has been backed into a corner when it comes to their optics this winter.

They’re cheap, many of their fans argue, stubbornly clinging to middle-class payrolls while piling up “one-percenter” profits from their little fiefdom downtown, Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village. The project, which will make the Cardinals an even bigger presence in the city, grows by the day right across the street from the team’s front offices on Clark Avenue.

They’ve been bad at finding the right free agents lately, some say, overpaying for declining talent in an effort to lure them from bigger cities on the coasts.

They risk wasting the final years of Yadier Molina’s brilliant career.

Make no mistake, the Cardinals’ front office has heard and felt the chorus of displeasure from their fan base — frustrated they’re apparently not in on Harper or Machado — and that has shoved a fiscally conservative group out of its comfort zone.

Four straight seasons out of the playoffs could be the tipping point for ownership to dig deeper than the manager’s office when it looks for ways to get back in championship contention. Bill DeWitt Jr. and the silent partners he speaks for already crossed one rickety bridge, firing manager Mike Matheny, a man they liked and admired but who wasn’t winning enough games.

If things don’t go well in 2019, the mob will come for general manager Michael Girsch and president baseball operations John Mozeliak, too. It’s too soon to blame manager Mike Shildt.

They may not want to, but owners are forced to listen to mobs when they grow to a certain bulk and noise level.

It is, I think, in this context that the Cardinals signed 33-year-old reliever Andrew Miller to a two-year, $25 million contract with a third year that could vest with 110 appearances over the next two seasons. They essentially bought a lottery ticket, aware it could lead to nothing, but hopeful it could pay off massively.

It’s also in that context that they earlier traded for one of the best players in the National League, Paul Goldschmidt, with no guarantees he’ll stick around beyond 2019. Goldschmidt, 31, could join a jailbreak of players leaving the Cardinals after next season. Starting pitchers Miles Mikolas and Michael Wacha and cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna also could reach free agency next November.

The stakes for this organization, and every individual in it, are enormous for 2019. That pressure is forcing the team into an all-in mentality this winter it has rarely taken.

One executive at last week’s winter meetings told me he thought Miller, who dealt with knee and shoulder injuries last season, would end up signing a one-year, incentive-laden deal. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cardinals overpaid egregiously. MLBTraderumors, which does a great job with these estimations, predicted Miller would sign a three-year, $27 million deal.

Still, the signing is higher stakes than it might at first appear, particularly for the reputations of Girsch and Mozeliak. That’s because over the past three seasons, they have gotten into a bad habit of paying declining 30-something relievers for past performance. Over the previous two offseasons, Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland put the Cardinals on the hook for $55.5 million. The three pitchers have combined to contribute a 5.10 ERA and a paltry strikeout-to-walk rate of 1.72.

Miller, who has a deserved reputation for philanthropy, came across as friendly and team-oriented in the conference call the Cardinals set up for reporters on Friday. Here’s what he said about the health of his body: “I feel like last year was a grind, and I feel like we put together a plan and I’m in a great place now. I’m confident it’s not going to be an issue and I can show myself to be the pitcher I have been the last however many years.”

Mozeliak gushed, “He has pitched on the biggest stages in the world. He has pitched at an elite level. His character, his competitiveness and his leadership all led us to pursue him this offseason.

“Today we added someone we feel can change the look of our bullpen and we feel will make us very competitive in the NL Central and the National League.”

And if Miller isn’t healthy? People will wonder when the Cardinals will learn their lesson. If Cecil and Gregerson don’t rebound, the Cardinals could have essentially flushed more than $80 million down the toilet. Most front offices nowadays hate overpaying for aging relievers. Many of those front offices viewed Miller as among the riskiest bets on the market.

There were, no doubt, arguments from within this front office to avoid taking on such exposure. It might have been smarter to have signed several failed starters with good raw stuff on minor-league deals and to have given them a chance to compete as relievers this spring. Sign a few Shelby Millers, in other words, and try to turn them into Archie Bradleys. If those guys don’t pan out, you just demote or release them. The financial pain is minimal. That flexibility is widely coveted.

Given the public pressure to do something, the Cardinals’ front office wasn’t willing to be seen as complacent.

Again, if Miller is healthy, it could be one of the best signings of the offseason. If he’s not, it’s not going to look good for Mozeliak and his group. The fan unrest might, at that point, be the least of their concerns. The people who have been writing all these checks for older relievers might start asking uncomfortable questions.
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