photo: Luke Gregerson (Raymond Carlin III/USA TODAY Sports Images)
A former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand is coming home, as the club makes its first of what is expected to be several moves to strengthen a bullpen that was inconsistent in 2017 and will be without veterans Trevor Rosenthal, Seung-hwan Oh and Kevin Siegrist in 2018.
On Sunday, various media members at Baseball’s Winter Meetings reported the Cardinals and free agent reliever Luke Gregerson have agreed to a two-year contract with an option for 2020.
The guaranteed value is $11 million, including a $1 million buyout for 2020. The 2020 option will be worth $5 million (club picks it up) or $6 million (vested), making the maximum value three years, $16 million. The option will vest at 60 games pitched in 2019 or 130 games over 2018 and 2019, with this information from Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY.
The deal will be finalized with a physical exam scheduled on Tuesday, per Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.
The 33-year old was originally a Cardinal, drafted in the 28th round in 2006. He pitched in the 2007 Arizona Fall League and spent all of 2008 with Double-A Springfield before being part of the trade to San Diego for Khalil Greene as a player to be named later. The deal was announced in December 2008, with Gregerson identified late in March 2009.
The Padres jumped him right into the majors, where he has remained. In 2010, Gregerson set the MLB record with 40 holds, which he held until 2013. That December, San Diego dealt the Illinois native to Oakland for outfielder Seth Smith. After a year with the A’s, Gregerson signed a three-year, $18.5 million plus-incentives contract with Houston as a free agent and remained there for the 2015-2017 seasons.
Not a high velocity pitcher, Gregerson still has a career mark of better than one strikeout per inning. He became an effective set up man behind an upper 80’s fastball-slider combination that leads to a heavy groundball mix, at 50 percent over his career.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder received a chance to close with the 2015 Astros, picking up 31 saves in 36 opportunities his first year, but after going just 15-of-21 the next, the improving Astros moved to Will Harris and ex-Phillie Ken Giles to take over as closer.
After a career-worst 4.57 ERA (4.62 FIP) and career-high 13 long balls given up with the 2017 Astros, Gregerson was not a major factor in their World Series run, throwing just 3 2/3 scoreless innings over the three post-season rounds.
Gregerson is durable, with nine consecutive seasons with at least 55 innings pitched while averaging 69 appearances per year.
It seems unlikely that Gregerson will be asked to close for St. Louis, with his presumed role to serve as primary right-handed set-up man. The identity of the club’s 2018 closer remains “to be determined”.
Gregerson is St. Louis’ second free agent addition of the week, joining starting pitcher Miles Mikolas, returning to MLB from Japan.
An interesting short-term timing implication of this signing is that upon its completion, the Cardinals’ 40-man roster will be full. If that is the case on Thursday, the club would be unable to select any players in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, unless someone else is removed in the interim.
Update Tuesday, December 12
Gregerson had his physical on Tuesday, per multiple media reports from the Winter Meetings. The Cardinals expect the results by Thursday, at which point they will finalize the deal.
Following the season, Gregerson had surgery on his left, glove hand to remove the hamate bone, GM Michael Girsch told the media. According to reports at the time, Gregerson was struck on the left hand by a line drive on September 20, but X-rays were negative.
To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.
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