ST. LOUIS — As the baseball world revolves around which city Bryce Harper decides to take his talent, the St. Louis Cardinals haven't wasted any time fixing the leaks in their facade.
The lineup was in need of a super-charged bat to threaten teams in the middle of the lineup, and the Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt. The 31-year-old first baseman is a perennial MVP candidate who attacks the other team in the field and at the plate. Quite frankly, he's revered and elicits a legit "uh oh" from other managers.
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Just listen to Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs talk when asked about his arrival in St. Louis. It's like telling a Mike Tyson opponent in the 1980's that Iron Mike is feeling angry on fight night.
The biggest hole, however, didn't carry a bat in 2018 for the Cardinals. The bullpen was a fractured group that underwent many makeovers. Namely, the left side offered next to nothing for a majority of the season. Remember a year ago when it was Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil against the world? Well, that died down pretty fast. Lyons got shelled, hurt and nearly released. Cecil just got shelled. Chasen Shreve came on in late July, impressed in pockets, but was too little, too late. The relief corps needed rehab.
Enter Andrew Miller. Less than two years ago, he was among the top five relievers in baseball. The man was Clint Eastwood's William Munny with a baseball. Carrying a WHIP under 1.00 and double-digit strikeouts averaged every nine innings, Miller missed bats and made hitters look feeble. Watch some 2016 playoff highlights if you need the memory fog removed. He was deadly with the Cleveland Indians, but the wear and tear from Terry Francona giving Miller's arm the Matt Bowman treatment affected the reliever's body in multiple areas.
Near the end of the 2017 season and throughout the 2018 season, Miller's shoulder and knee would be injured, and the results collapsed like a dominoes on a table with a shaky leg. The WHIP went up, the strikeouts went down and the invincibility diminished.
Still, Miller was one of the most sought after relievers in this free agent market. When the Cardinals signed him to a two-year $25 million dollar contract with incentives and a vesting option for a third season, the New York Yankees and New York Mets both cried a little. You can bet the Cubs cringed a little. The reason is simple: one troublesome season doesn't take away years of dominance.
Is Miller a risk? Sure. Every signing or acquisition carries a risk and a reward. A general manager and the front office are poker players sitting at a high stakes table when they are staring down potential assets. When John Mozeliak, Michael Girsch and Bill DeWitt Jr. looked at Miller, they saw a heavier reward than risk. They are gambling on a return to form.
It's not a far-fetched bet. If Miller gets a clean bill of health, he could easily return to his 2017 level of performance or fairly close to it. If he can reach 60-75% of that status, the bullpen just got a lot deadlier. You see, Miller can get lefties and righties out at the plate. Over the course of his career, he has held right-handed hitters to a .370 slugging percentage. That's like offering a football fan a plate of broccoli at a tailgate party. It's cruel and unusual.
Who did you want instead? Will Smith? The actor is busy voicing the Genie in Aladdin right now, and the San Francisco Giants reliever will cost an arm and a leg. Zach Britton will command a lot more money than Miller, and he is coming off an injury that Cardinals fans should know a lot about. A year ago, Britton ruptured his Achilles Heel. While he was effective in splitting time between Baltimore and New York last season, there must be worry among suitors for Britton's services.
After all, Britton doesn't miss many bats and allows more free passes than Miller. The Cardinals need a pitcher who can miss bats and not one who relies on contact and hopefully doesn't have his leg collapse.
Miller's effect on the Cardinals bullpen can be lethal in a number of ways. He can pitch either of the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth innings. While he's never been a full-blown closer in his career, the job shouldn't scare him. When you are dominant during the World Series, the league's brightest stage, few tasks should scare you.
With Miller's arrival, Cecil becomes a pompom twirling teammate or a good candidate for 12-1 route duty. More than likely, the team tries to shop him and eats most of the contract left over. Miller, Shreve, and possibly Genesis Cabrera can anchor the left side of the pen, and the Cardinals can still bring in another arm.
Jordan Hicks anchors the right side, with Dakota Hudson, Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia, Mike Mayers, Daniel Poncedeleon and possibly Alex Reyes providing other options. Young phenom prospect Ryan Helsey will also figure in the mix this season. Dominic Leone and Luke Gregerson should be healthy enough to contribute in yet-to-be defined roles.
Miller gives the Cardinals something they didn't have the past two seasons: a lefty who scares other teams and should cause problems. With one southpaw, the Cardinals' bullpen looks completely different. I don't care if it takes 30 doctors to check out and approve of the man's shoulder and knee. Unless a red flag flies up, Miller is tip top and ready to recapture the glory that eluded him last season.
He has a third year to trigger in his contract and incentives to chase down. The Cardinals took a risk, but a reliable one, considering what they needed after last season.
When you lose 22 one-run games like the Cardinals did this past season, something needs to change. When a large portion of your bullpen arms have put too many men on base, something has to give. When your left-handed relief is about as useful as a car without gas, a new face is required.
Andrew Miller is more than a mere facelift; he's a potential weapon. A guy whom other teams coveted and wanted. Someone who can miss bats, limit baserunners and intimidate the other team.
A risk is common with any deal. With Miller, the reward is simply greater. As sexy as Harper looms to any team, he can't pitch, and the Cardinals needed serious help in that department. The Cardinals are better than they were last week, and that is what counts at the end of the day.