photo: Andrew Miller (Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports)
The first in our countdown of the top 10 St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2018 is the most recent, bumping off the list a couple of other just slightly-less impactful items, in my opinion.
On Friday, December 21, the club formally announced the signing of free agent left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller to a two-year contract worth $25 million. A third-year vesting option plus annual incentives extends the maximum value to $36 million.
Miller did not receive a qualifying offer for 2019 from his prior club, the Cleveland Indians. As a result, St. Louis does not forfeit a 2019 draft pick due to this signing.
As in any move, there is risk, but this one also offers tremendous upside. When all is said and done, this new contract is much less dependent on the money, and more so on if the dominant pre-2018 Miller is the one who pitches for St. Louis.
In the six years from 2012-2017, Miller was among the game’s very best, as he logged a 2.01 ERA and struck out 14.1 batters per nine innings. However, last season, it dropped to 4.24 ERA with a still-strong 11.9 strikeout rate that would have been highest on the 2018 Cardinals. His FIP was somewhat better at 3.51.
The underlying concerns are Miller’s health and age. In his age 32-33 season last year, Miller was on the disabled list three times – with a left hamstring strain, right knee inflammation and a left shoulder impingement. However, he was given a clean bill of health from doctors last month.
Between 2014 and 2017, Miller delivered between 2.0 and 3.0 fWAR each season, averaging 2.4 per year. In 2018, 2.4 fWAR would have made him the second-best pitcher on the Cardinals staff, after Miles Mikolas (4.3).
However, that would not have occurred. Miller’s actual 2018 with Cleveland was injury-plagued with the disappointing results noted above. His bottom line was 0.4 fWAR, slightly less than Jordan Hicks (0.5) and a bit better than Dominic Leone and Mike Mayers (0.3).
The Cardinals currently do not have a defined closer. It remains to be seen whether Miller will play that role or it is taken by another reliever or shared among several. Miller is also capable of pitching multiple innings if needed.
At almost two months until spring training opens, the Central Division dynamics have changed. With rival Chicago hamstrung financially, the addition of Miller, coupled with the trade for Paul Goldschmidt, have raised the Cardinals to even ground with the Cubs in the view of early projections – and the winter wheeling and dealing is not done.
The Cardinal Nation’s top 10 stories of the year countdown
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