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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Cardinals sign Brett Cecil, potentially redefining market for relievers

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Left-handed reliever Brett Cecil agreed to a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. This isn’t a huge story in itself, but the terms of the deal look like they might have a huge impact on the class of free agent relievers.

Cecil’s deal ended up being a four year, $30.5 million pact with a full no-trade clause, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. That’s an average annual value of over $7.5 million a year, with a fourth year tacked onto the deal.

According to Yahoo! Sports’s Jeff Passan, it came down to a very aggressive Cardinals organization trying to get Cecil to sign on.

To be entirely clear, Cecil isn’t a bad reliever. Since the Toronto Blue Jays converted him from a starter to a bullpen arm, he has a 2.90 ERA and 261 strikeouts over 205 relief innings. That said, 2016 was his worst year out of the bullpen, as his ERA grew to 3.90 and he became much more hittable, allowing 9.6 hits per nine, easily the worst mark he’s posted since being converted.

As Passan notes, though, Cecil’s deal is probably most meaningful to the rest of the market. Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon lead the crop of free agent relievers, and are surely salivating after seeing what Cecil, a good but not elite reliever, got from St. Louis.

Chapman in particular is said to be seeking a record contract for a reliever, possibly doubling Jonathan Papelbon’s 4 year, $50 million deal with Philadelphia. Many observers scoffed at that report, but on this evidence, he will have no trouble getting the record deal, and may come a lot closer to his supposed target than many people thought. Jansen could cash in on a similar sort of deal. Melancon will likely lag behind those two, but he’ll still get a significant payday as well.

Combine this with the fact that there is a serious lack of quality free agent starting pitching available, and it’s believable that teams in search of arms will be more willing to engage in a bidding war for a high-quality reliever. That appears, to a certain extent, to be what happened with Cecil and the Cardinals. Baseball is richer than ever, the postseason usage of guys like Chapman and Andrew Miller highlighted the impact that elite relief pitching can have, and there’s no obvious ace starter available for teams looking to upgrade to dump money on. All of that points to a record-breaking payday for guys like Chapman and Jansen, and the potential for some mind-boggling contracts being handed out to relief pitchers.

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