Cardinals add Miller in search for stability

By Jeff Jones

Twitter – @jmjones

 ST. LOUIS — When the Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant in 2016, their usage of lefthander Andrew Miller out of the bullpen was hailed as somewhere between revolutionary and a throwback to the days when multi-inning stoppers were the norm.

As the Cardinals sought to reform the effectiveness of their relievers in this offseason, they deduced that the best place to look was the source.

Miller, 33, agreed to a two-year contract on Friday which will guarantee him at least $25 million. The deal also includes a vesting option for a third year which could push the total value to $36 million. Stability for Miller and, the Cardinals hope, for their left side.

The Cardinals still have five other left-handed pitchers – Genesis Cabrera, Brett Cecil, Austin Gomber, Chasen Shreve and Tyler Webb – on their 40-man roster who could contribute from the bullpen in 2019. All of those pitchers, save Cabrera, contributed to a staff which allowed a .720 OPS against left handed pitchers – .880 for lefties against righty batters – in 2018.

Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak conceded during a conference call on Friday morning that what appears to be a slight roster jam could be left to resolve itself in spring training. The club views Miller as separate from that jam, and he may be a candidate to finish out the back end of games.

“We see this as someone who will be used in high leverage situations,” Mozeliak said. “As far as role, there will be some flexibility with that.”

That flexibility is likely to cover picking up the closer’s baton if neither Jordan Hicks nor Alex Reyes prove ready to carry it. Miller recorded 36 saves for the Yankees in 2015, though he only has 53 total in his career. He hasn’t been primarily used as a closer since being traded away from New York and to Cleveland in 2016 and said that the search for saves didn’t factor into his free agent journey.

“We haven’t even talked to the Cardinals about [closing], to be honest,” Miller said. “I’m happy to be flexible.”

That flexibility is a key asset that the Cardinals were seeking in their back-end fortifications. Both Hicks and Reyes have a background which includes experience starting games, and assuming that both pitchers are healthy, they could each see some multi-inning deployments in 2019. John Brebbia was also used in a multi-inning role on several occasions in 2018, which could leave pitchers such as Shreve and Dominic Leone to be used as shorter-term specialists.

Regardless of the particulars of his usage, Miller said that the lure of the Cardinals was strong. When the Cardinals call, he said, a baseball player will always listen. And his goals are clear.

“I’ve never been a healthy, contributing member to a World Series team,” Miller said. “That’s the Holy Grail. That’s the box I want to check.”

“The goal is to win the World Series.”

Complex usage. Simple intentions.