Jordan Walden has signed a contract extension with the Cardinals. The deal was first announced on the the Cardinals official Twitter account. Walden came to the Cardinals in the trade that sent Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves in exchange for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. Walden was clearly a secondary piece in the trade with Heyward a potential superstar, but the Cardinals believed Walden to be an important part of the deal and fixture in next year's bullpen.
The Cardinals showed just how much they believed in Walden with a two-year deal. The deal buys out both years of arbitration, and includes an option for a third. The dollar figures were first reported by Chris Cotillo of SBNation.
Source: #STLCards agreement with Walden is 2-year, $6.6M deal that includes a $5.25M club option for 2017.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 23, 2014
The deal enables the Cardinals to avoid arbitration, something they have been very successful doing over the last few years. The most recent deal similar to Walden's did not work out well for the Cardinals, signing Jason Motte to a two-year deal for $12 million. Motte, the Cardinals closer at the time, was looking at much bigger figures than Walden in arbitration. MLB Trade Rumors estimated Walden's arbitration at $3 million.
Walden has pitched very well over his career, including a solid year in 2014 (Numbers from Fangraphs).
Walden's walk rate has fluctuated over the years, not unusual in the small sample size of a relief pitcher. His strikeout rates have not wavered, remaining elite. He likely slots into the eighth inning role for the Cardinals vacated by Pat Neshek, who signed a two-year deal guaranteeing him more than $12 million with the Astros.
Given the price of relievers on the free agent market, the deal is a fair one for the Cardinals. The Cardinals were already going to pay Walden around $3 million in 2015. The team is essentially guaranteeing Walden's 2016 salary at $3.6 million in exchange for an option at a discount for 2017. Walden's 2016 salary is less than he would have received if he has a healthy 2015. The Cardinals also receive an option for 2017 at $5.25 million. If Walden pitches well over the next two years, the option will be an easy one to pick up. If he pitches poorly or gets injured, the Cardinals will have paid a small amount not having a great effect on the payroll.
The signing is not completely without risk as most multi-year deals for relievers are a poor idea. Walden is not likely to remain effective every season over the next three years, but the Cardinals have only guaranteed Walden one extra year at a relatively low amount. If Walden is still effective at the end of 2016, they will have a low-cost option for the end of the game. It might not be the former Braves player that Cardinals fans wanted to sign an extension, but this is a low-cost, low-risk deal that could turn out quite well for the Cardinals.