Andrew Miller signed for the St Louis Cardinals on a two-year, $25 million contract with a vesting option for the third year worth $12 million. The option vests at 110 appearances in 2019 and 2020 combined as reported by Ken Rosenthal.
Miller is the second of the elite free agent relievers to sign this offseason, joining new Dodger, Joe Kelly. Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton are still looking for new homes, while others are available on the trade market.
The two-time All-Star is coming off an injury hit 2018 season. He managed just 37 Major League appearances and was unrecognisable from his previous self with a 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. To give some context, Miller’s WHIP was 0.83 in 2017 and 0.69 in 2016. His ERA was below 1.50 in both of those seasons. He also claimed ALCS MVP as the Cleveland Indians made the World Series in 2016.
The left-hander is the second big name offseason acquisition for St Louis, after they traded for Paul Goldschmidt earlier this winter. The Cardinals’ left-handed relievers were amongst the worst in the Major Leagues last season – this is the biggest move they could make to address that.
St Louis are used to contending, and their big offseason so far puts them back in the picture to win the National League Central. They have flirted with the wildcard in recent seasons but have not been able to keep pace with the Cubs. Goldschmidt was a massive step and Miller, if healthy, has a claim as baseball’s best relief pitcher.
Miller was set for a monster contract 12 months ago. This is not that. There is minimal risk in a two-year deal, and a huge amount of upside for St Louis. The AAV is good value for a player of his reputation, particularly considering the deals we have seen for Wade Davis, Mark Melancon and others over the last two offseasons.
Miller’s difficult 2018 might increase the gamble, but relievers always carry uncertainty. There is not much for St Louis to lose from this. It retains their financial flexibility to improve their 2019 roster, and it does not jeopardise their chance of contending into the next decade. And, if Miller is back to his 2016 and 2017 self, they have perhaps the game’s most effective bullpen arm on a favourable contract.
The Cardinals are just about third favourites for the division right now, but they are significantly closer than they were at the end of the season. This deal means it’s well and truly a three-horse race in the NL Central.