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St. Louis Cardinals target free agent Andrew Miller with Randy Choate out of favor

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During general manager John Mozeliak's tenure leading the Cardinals front office, the club has seldom spent a lot on relievers. Might that be changing?

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The approach St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has taken to constructing a relief corps has long intrigued me. My first Viva El Birdos main-page post was on the Cards' bullpen. Back in early 2010, I framed the notion that the Cardinals needed a proven veteran bullpenner as a fan's need for a false sense of security. As Craig broke down, vets tend to require longish-term contracts and that's a bad bet to make. A cheap bullpen has been a hallmark of the Mozeliak era, from 2008 through 2014. Here are the most expensive reliever during the Mozeliak regime's control of the Caridnals:

  • 2008: Jason Isringhausen, $8 million
  • 2008: Russ Springer, $3.5 million
  • 2009: Ryan Franklin, $2.5 million
  • 2009: Dennys Reyes, $1 million
  • 2010: Ryan Franklin, $3 million
  • 2010: Trever Miller, $2 million
  • 2010: Dennys Reyes: $2 million
  • 2011: Ryan Franklin, $3.25 million
  • 2011: Trever Miller, $2 million
  • 2012: Kyle McClellan, $2.5 million
  • 2012: Jason Motte, $1.95 million
  • 2013: Jason Motte, $4.5 million
  • 2013: Edward Mujica, $3.2 million
  • 2013: Randy Choate, $1.5 million
  • 2013: Mitchell Boggs, $1.475 million
  • 2013: Marc Rzepczynski, $1.1 million
  • 2014: Jason Motte, $7.5 million
  • 2014: Randy Choate, $3 million

So the most expensive reliever that the Cardinals have had on payroll during Mozeliak's tenure as general manager is Isringhausen, who was in the final year of a contract Mozeliak inherited from former GM Walt Jocketty. For what it's worth, Isringhausen posted a 5.70 ERA, 4.87 FIP, and 4.49 xFIP in 2008 after a 2.48 ERA, 3.76 FIP, and 4.27 xFIP in 2007, the final season of the Jocketty era.

Motte, the second-most expensive reliever of the Mozeliak era, was signed to a two-year extension prior to the 2012 season, which the righty never pitched during due to season-ending Tommy John surgery. In 2014, his first season after UCL replacement surgery, Motte posted a 4.68 ERA, 6.49 FIP, and 4.58 xFIP.

Expensive bullpenners have been busts for the Cards under Mozeliak. The GM's cheap approach to bullpen construction has proven fruitful for the most part, even if it has caused fans some heartburn. Which is what made the reporting of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold this week all the more curious: The Cards' primary Hot Stove target is lefty Andrew Miller.

The rumored interested is somewhat surprising. The last time the Cards stepped out of what is seemingly Mozeliak's low-cost reliever comfort zone was prior to 2013, when St. Louis signed Choate, a sidewinding lefty specialist. That offseason, St. Louis specifically targeted lefthanded relief help and zeroed in on Choate as the pitcher who best fit the description of what the Cardinals desired, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com:

St. Louis has few holes to fill on its roster before 2013, but finding a second southpaw to join Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen was among the team's top priorities. The Cards were eyeing a specific sort of lefty, too, one who could fill a lefty-on-lefty specialist role.

Choate fit that bill better than any other available southpaw reliever, including Sean Burnett, who doesn't profile so much as a lefty specialist. Though the Cardinals did meet with agents representing other lefty relievers, Choate was the team's target from the start.

Since then, the Cardinals —or perhaps more accurately, manager Mike Matheny—have soured on Choate because of his highly specialized skill set, which makes him more difficult to use. From Goold's Post-Dispatch article on Mozeliak and Matheny's postseason presser:

"I think we both feel that if we can upgrade there or have an additional arm to choose from, that makes sense," Mozeliak said. "We’re certainly not ruling out Siegrist. I think in Choate’s case, for us, he’s fairly one-dimensional. That makes it difficult for us to use him, particularly during a long season."

Choate's limited skill set has him on the outs with the Cardinals' leadership regime two years after that same skill set led Mozeliak and Matheny to target the Lefty One Out Guy (LOOGY) as a free agent. The manager and, by extension, organization are targeting a lefty who can retire both righthanded and lefthanded batters alike, a la Kevin Siegrist 2013, in Miller. The move raises an eyebrow since Miller may very well command a salary higher than any reliever has earned during Mozeliak's tenure as GM as well as a contract that is equal to or longer in length than any deal inked by a St. Louis reliever with Mozeliak leading the front office. The longest reliever contract under the Mozeliak regime is Choate's, and that was three years. Miller will likely require a deal at least that long, if not four years, to secure his services. Such a deal would mark a departure from Mozeliak's reliever philosophy as GM and seems to indicate that Matheny's influence has grown after three seasons as manager.