The Cardinals announced their first real transaction of the offseason yesterday, making official Brett Cecil’s four-year, $30.5 million deal with the club. Cecil, who will turn 31 midway through the season, was recently a Toronto Blue Jay, so he’s learned his trade in the tough (at least for pitchers) AL East. The Cards also gave him a no-trade clause and designated Brayan Pena for assignment.
Now that we’ve got the facts out of the way, it’s time for opinion. My colleague Doug has already weighed in on this matter, but I think I’m a little more optimistic than he is about it. I will say that my first reaction to the deal was that four years seemed a long time for a reliever, given the vagaries of the group due to limited sample sizes. That said, the longer deal makes sense when that was the thing that brought Cecil into the fold, topping the other offers that he currently had on the table. I don’t think it’s a terrible thing, but especially not as an incentive. At the very worst, the club could cut him the last year of the contract and eat the $7 million or so. That money isn’t a huge factor to the club now and will be even less so when the TV contract kicks in for 2018.
Plus, given the history the Cardinals have had recently with relievers and multi-year deals, this hopefully means you can get at least two full years out of Cecil. It seems like all the recent two-year deals have been wiped out by injury so if something happens to Cecil (which we hope it doesn’t, though he did have a muscle strain last year that sent him to the DL for a few weeks), at least there’s a chance to get more than a month of work out of him (hello, Jordan Walden!).
The money is nothing. As Fangraphs noted, this is not really out of line with what Darren O’Day got last offseason. You know that line in Field of Dreams, “for it’s money they have, and peace they lack?” That’s pretty much the Cardinals. Finances are not going to be an issue if they can 1) find a free agent that fits their needs and 2) that player wants to join them after seeing the contract. I’m not saying they are going to throw money around all willy-nilly, but if they feel they have to have a player, their comfort level with larger sums is going to be fine.
I wouldn’t be all that concerned with the no-trade clause either. If the Cardinals are going to contend over the next four years, the likelihood is either Cecil is going to be a key part of that. If they don’t, it’s possibly because Cecil has underperformed and, as such, wouldn’t be worth much on the trade market either. If there does come up a situation where the Cards want to trade him, no-trade clauses can often be bought out. I can’t blame the guy for asking for one and it is interesting that a club that had been reluctant to give those out now has done so in back-to-back offseasons, with the first being Mike Leake. We’ll see if this is a change in organizational strategy or just what they needed to do in individual cases.
Is his performance worth the target the Cardinals put on him? It seems to be. I’ve not watched Cecil pitch, as far as I know, but the highlights seem to show that he’s definitely got strong stuff. I texted a friend of mine who is a Blue Jays fan and he said he always like Cecil, which is a pretty strong recommendation to me. His numbers from last year overall look a bit pedestrian, but after he returned from the muscle strain he put up a 3.42 ERA and batters had a .222/.267/.394 line against him while he struck out 36 in 26.1 innings. Those numbers improved as he got back into his rhythm, as he had a 1.04 ERA in his last 8.2 innings, striking out 14 and allowing just five hits.
The three years before last year all look great on the stat lines as well. He even made the All-Star Game in 2013 as a reliever, which isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish. He’s got postseason experience and done well there also. All in all, this looks like a great addition to the back of the bullpen and it gives it a chance to be that hammer that we thought it was going to be last year with Walden, Seung-hwan Oh, Kevin Siegrist, and Trevor Rosenthal. Now, if Rosenthal can be more in line with his past and not his 2016, you have Cecil, Rosenthal, and Siegrist that can come in at basically any time and in any order, with Oh nailing down the ninth. While these guys can’t play every day–and the biggest issue with this flexibility is going to be seeing how Mike Matheny uses it–a late inning lead should be pretty safe, especially if the starters can get into the sixth and seventh more often than they did last season.
While bullpen additions (save closers) aren’t usually that exciting and headline-making, this looks like a good move on the part of John Mozeliak to shore up what wasn’t exactly a weakness last year but could have used a little tinkering, especially with the loss of Tyler Lyons for much of the year. There should be–SHOULD BE–a lot less knotted stomachs and heart palpitations in the late innings in 2017.
As for the removal of Brayan Pena from the 40-man, that’s a pretty interesting move in itself. The key is going to be whether Pena elects to become a free agent after clearing waivers. If not, my guess is they came to Pena, told them what they wanted to do, and said they’d add him back to the 40-man in March when they could move people like Seth Maness, Zach Duke, and Lyons to the 60-day DL and free up some 40-man spots. Given that the Cardinals have indicated that they still want Carson Kelly to get regular time in Memphis this year, this seems to be the most likely scenario. It would be strange if they signed a veteran backup in March when they could have kept Pena and ditched someone like Jose Martinez (who the club really must like to have continued carrying him on this 40-man). I’m often wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pena decided to stay in the organization.
Mozeliak has addressed one of his major issues. Now he can look to fixing the outfield, which is likely to create a bit more of a splash, at least in chatter, than Cecil, whatever it may be. Seems like it’ll be an after Thanksgiving move, though, so hope you enjoy your turkey as you speculate!