St. Louis Cardinals Should Splurge to Acquire Andrew Miller
Trendy predictions about the Hot Stove season for the St. Louis Cardinals have them deep in the market for a power hitter, but those picks might end up similar to the preseason picks that always have the Toronto Blue Jays in the playoffs.
Toronto now holds the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball at 21 years after the Kansas City Royals broke their record-setting, 29-year stretch with a trip to the World Series in 2014 and any prognosticators who have suggested the Blue Jays will play in October during the past two decades has picked a franchise that has had a winning record just nine times in that span.
That example suggests sentiments that become common are rarely correct, and often reality is the exact opposite.
In the case of the offseason plans for the 2015 Cardinals, much of the early focus has shifted toward offensive players with gaudy home run numbers such as free agent right fielder Nelson Cruz, who hit a league-leading 40 home runs in 2014, Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who would have challenged the 20-home run mark for the fifth consecutive season in 2014 if not for injuries, and Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who led the National League with 37 homers this past year despite missing the final month because he was hit in the face with a pitch.
Marlins officials have said they intend to keep Stanton for the time being, the Rockies are reportedly undecided about whether to dangle Gonzalez but would figure to command a hefty return package in any potential trade and Cruz could be sign one of the most-expensive contracts of the offseason along with third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Those barriers, plus the Cardinals’ potential stability in the outfield with Matt Holliday in left, Jon Jay in center and Randal Grichuk in right, means the team should instead focus its offseason budget on the bullpen, and specifically on free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller.
Miller was part of a Trade Deadline move July 31 between the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, and he was stellar for Baltimore during its run to the American League East Division championship and spot in the American League Championship Series.
He pitched to a 1.35 earned-run average in 23 appearances during the final two months of the regular season with 34 strikeouts against four walks in 20 innings before he struck out eight, walked one and did not allow a run across 7 1/3 innings in five postseason outings.
Those numbers would obviously boost a Cardinals bullpen that was better than the dreadful performance of the Los Angeles Dodgers relievers in the National League Division Series but lost the battle in the NLCS against the eventual world-champion San Francisco Giants.
The St. Louis bullpen particularly struggled from the left side, as veteran lefty Randy Choate registered a 9.00 ERA in four NLCS appearances while manager Mike Matheny kept left-hander Sam Freeman off of the NLCS roster after he walked two and failed to record an out in his only appearance against the Dodgers in the division series.
Kevin Siegrist was out with lingering injury problems, so that left rookie Marco Gonzales as the only reliable left-handed option out of the bullpen during the most important part of the season. Gonzales was solid with an admirable 4.50 ERA and 2-1 record in six outings, but another steady left-handed option would have done wonders for the Cardinals against the Giants.
Miller is a target of many teams, however, so the bidding might go rather high since some organizations view him as a possible closer.
Still, the Cardinals should be a part of the mix to acquire him. Their other needs, assuming they don’t seriously pursue a power-hitting outfielder, should not cost a significant chunk of money because they will likely look for role players who can fill spots in the bench and the bullpen.
A high-end, free-agent deal for a left-handed reliever is similar to a contract for an offensive lineman in the NFL. It doesn’t create a lot of excitement among the fan base, but dollars spent on good lineman tend to become vital to a football team’s success.
Also, the money it might cost to acquire Miller might be as shocking as the $53 million the Cardinals committed for four years to then-31-year-old shortstop Jhonny Peralta last offseason, but a similar deal for Miller might prove to be just as valuable when the Cardinals’ 2015 season concludes.