By Rob Rains
The Cardinals added the left-handed reliever they have been missing at the back end of their bullpen on Friday, signing free agent Andrew Miller to a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third season.
Here are five takeaways from the move:
The Cardinals not only believe Miller is healthy, they believe they can keep him healthy.
Miller went through an injury-filled 2018 season which limited him to pitching just 34 innings for the Indians. He said in a conference call with the media on Friday he is positive the leg and shoulder issues are behind him and he knows what plan he needs to follow to stay healthy.
“Last year was a grind,” Miler said. “I feel like we put together a plan and I’m in a great place now and I’m confident it’s not going to be an issue and that I can be the pitcher I’ve shown I can be over the last several years … I think we’ve figured it out.”
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, also said the team’s doctors were convinced the 33-year-old Miller is healthy.
“You don’t engage in these types of conversations if you think there’s any risk or serious doubt of him not being able to perform at the level where we think he can perform,” Mozeliak said.
Miller could be to the bullpen what the addition of Paul Goldschmidt was to the lineup.
Like Goldschmidt when he was introduced in St. Louis following his acquisition from Arizona, Miller said his goal for the season concerns team accomplishments and not individual success.
“The goal is to win the World Series,” Miller said. “My goal is to be one of the 25 guys jumping on top of each other at the end of the year.”
Especially in a bullpen which could be loaded with a lot of young pitchers, Mozeliak said the Cardinals are counting on Miller to take a leadership role, something Miller said he was eager to do.
“Any team that goes out and gets Goldy, I know what their intentions are,” Miller said. “You’re not going to find anybody to say anything negative about the Cardinals. Winning the World Series is the holy grail. That’s a box I want to check.”
Added Mozeliak, “Everything I’ve learned about Andrew Miller over the past six weeks plus watching and observing him when he’s on the field and what I’ve heard about him is he’s going to make other people better. The way he goes about it, the way he thinks about it, the way he prepares … that’s exactly why you look to bring these types of players into your organization.”
The move will have an effect on other pitchers hoping to win a spot in what suddenly is a crowded bullpen.
Jordan Hicks will continue to have a key role in the Cardinals’ bullpen and if all of the expected starters are healthy and performing well, manager Mike Shildt is going to have a tough time making decisions about who else to include in the bullpen.
What role will Alex Reyes have? Or Dakota Hudson? Even a pitcher such as Dominic Leone, if healthy, could be a strong candidate for a key role. And what about pitchers such as John Brebbia or Mike Mayers, who performed well in surviving the 1-55 shuttle last year?
That group doesn’t even include young pitchers like Austin Gomber or Daniel Ponce de Leon, who also were part of that mix constantly on the move from Memphis to St. Louis. That could be true again foe them in 2019. The Cardinals likely will have only two left-handers in the bullpen and with Miller locked into one spot, the candidates for the second spot now are Brett Cecil, Chasen Shreve, Tyler Webb and perhaps Gomber.
That group also does not include Genesis Cabrera, a hard-throwing 22-year-old left-hander who has performed very well in a relief role this winter in the Dominican Republic.
Don’t expect one pitcher to get the bulk of the work in the ninth inning.
Mozeliak said he expects Miller will be used in high-leverage situations, which could find him in the game anywhere between the seventh and ninth innings, depending on when an opponent’s key left-handers are due to bat.
“I think it gives us a lot more flexibility,” Mozeliak said. “We feel we have multiple different options to close a game. That’s not to say he won’t be used to close a game but he’s going to be used in situations where we feel we can most take advantage of his skills.”
Miller is happy with that arrangement, noting the most important outs in a game don’t always come in the ninth inning.
“I want to be on a team that wins,” Miller said. “I’m happy being flexible. I look forward to it. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Unfinished business for the Cardinals
The Cardinals have checked off the two biggest boxes on their off-season to-do list, getting an impact bat in Goldschmidt and a veteran left-handed reliever In Miller, who no doubt will become quite familiar with Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto over the next two years.
What’s left for Mozeliak is to find a catcher to back up Yadier Molina and decide if he wants to trade Jose Martinez and/or Jedd Gyorko and what would be the best return he could get for either player.
The Cardinals still could likely use a veteran left-handed hitter for the bench, especially if he has the versatility to play a number of positions.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains