By Rob Rains
The Cardinals made the signing of left-handed pitcher Steven Matz official on Monday. Whether he will be their only free-agent signing before a possible lockout begins on Wednesday night remains to be seen.
John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, said the team does have “offers” out to other free agents but he did not seem either optimistic or pessimistic that more deals would be completed.
The expiration of the current bargaining agreement between the owners and players at midnight on Thursday has created a frenzy among free agents trying to sign before that agreement ends and a lockout, which would freeze any free agent signings, begins.
“We still would like to add additional bullpen arms,” Mozeliak said in a zoom press conference announcing Matz’s signing. “Clearly we want to go into camp with a little more depth than we had last year.”
Mozeliak said the Cardinals also have interest in adding a hitter, especially with all indications that the National League will be adopting the DH beginning next season.
“I think the way we’re going to look at the remaining time here is just to be open-minded,” he said. “With the uncertainty of what this off-season may or may not look like in the coming days, for us it’s going to be business-as-usual until we are told it’s not.
“I think you are going to see continued action on the free-agent market. It does seem like with this deadline looming a lot of teams, players and agents are trying to get things done. We have some offers out there, we’ll see whether they land or not. We’re going to continue to try to beef up our club as best we can.”
Among the free agents signing on Monday was St. Louis native Max Scherzer, who agreed to a record $130 million, three-year contract with the Mets.
If it turns out that Matz is the only free agent signed by the Cardinals before a lockout begins, Mozeliak believes it is a move that will improve the team in 2022, calling Matz “an idea fit” for the team, rounding out the projected starting rotation.
The 30-year-old Matz, who was 14-7 with Toronto last season, agreed to a four-year deal worth $44 million, with the possibility of earning another $4 million in incentive bonuses. Matz picked the Cardinals over offers from several other teams, including the Blue Jays and his original team, the Mets.
Part of the reason, he said Monday, was because he also saw the fit with his style of pitching – getting a lot of ground balls- and the benefit of pitching to catcher Yadier Molina and in front of five Gold Glove winners, including three on the infield.
“For me, it just felt like a really good fit,” Matz said. “The advice I got was to try to pick a place that sets you up for success and after meeting with a lot of the staff there I felt like they also would help me take my game to the next level.
“When you can have trust in the guys behind you it just gives you more confidence which leads to more conviction in your pitches, which ultimately leads to more success. I’m really excited to have those guys behind me to say the least.”
Matz also said a factor in his decision was the geographical fit. He lives in Franklin, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.
Matz said he believes he has evolved as a pitcher, especially over the last couple of years, and is eager to put that knowledge to work with the Cardinals.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout my career and I would say the last few years I really started to get an identity of who I am as a pitcher,” Matz said. “I continue to try to hone in on that.
“Once you have that identity and the conviction in your pitches that’s ultimately what helped me – just believing in your stuff and what you have and not trying to recreate the wheel every time something goes wrong.”
Matz also was a player who wanted to get a deal done in advance of a possible lockout. He took advantage of his wife Taylor, a Christian musician, performing in the San Diego area during the GM meetings earlier this month to have several in-person meetings with teams.
“With the situation that we have looming, definitely talking with my wife Taylor we wanted to have some certainty on where we are going to be,” he said.
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Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports