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St. Louis Cardinals opportunistically sign Carlos Villanueva to fill a specific role

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The Cardinals felt they needed a swingman, so they signed a swingman.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Since November, we've known that the St. Louis Cardinals planned on being "opportunistic" in the free-agent pitching market, by way of general manager John Mozeliak and others. For example, FOX's Ken Rosenthal reported in early December that the Cardinals would seek a long reliever/starter type in January, as insurance for Carlos Martinez. What the St. Louis front office probably didn't count on was the free-agent market taking this long to materialize. When it comes to opportunism, February is the new January.

On Wednesday, the Cardinals agreed to a minor-league contract with Carlos Villanueva. Here are the righty's career stats:

Year

G

GS

IP

LOB%

K%

BB%

ERA

ERA-

FIP

FIP-

xFIP

xFIP-

2006

10

6

53.2

76.9

18.1

5.1

3.69

82

4.47

99

4.24

93

2007

59

6

114.1

78.9

20.3

10.8

3.94

90

4.80

108

4.67

104

2008

47

9

108.1

76.8

20.0

6.5

4.07

96

4.49

105

3.70

86

2009

64

6

96.0

67.1

19.7

8.3

5.34

129

4.28

102

4.04

95

2010

50

0

52.2

73.2

29.0

9.5

4.61

114

3.74

94

3.24

81

2011

33

13

107.0

72.8

15.0

7.1

4.04

97

4.10

99

4.48

111

2012

38

16

125.1

79.4

23.4

8.8

4.16

99

4.71

111

4.09

99

2013

47

15

128.2

72.7

19.7

7.6

4.06

107

3.86

101

3.97

105

2014

42

5

77.2

67.3

21.0

5.5

4.64

124

3.13

83

3.61

98

Total

390

76

863.2

73.8

20.4

7.9

4.26

104

4.23

102

4.06

98

Villanueva, a league-average-ish pitcher, may not be the opportunistic signing you were looking for if you're a Cardinals fan. After all, James Shields is still on the market, with a price tag seemingly far less than what is was back in December. But it nonetheless fits Mozeliak's modus operandi as well as a St. Louis need.

Villanueva is the quintessential swingman. After his rookie season in 2006, Villanueva has never made more than 16 starts in a full season or fewer than 33 appearances. The righty has freely moved between the bullpen and the rotation, and that likely appealed to the Cardinals what with Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright's injury concerns, questions about Carlos Martinez's ability to handle a major-league starer's workload, and the unhealthy nature of pitching work generally. Further, slotting Villanueva into the swingman role would allow the Cardinals to earmark Marco Gonzales for relief work, where some in the organization feel he has the potential to be Andrew Miller-esque.

Right now, the Cards only have four sure-thing bets to make the opening-day bullpen as righty relievers: (1) Trevor Rosenthal, (2) Jordan Walden, (3) Seth Maness, and (4) Matt Belisle. After that, there's Sam Tuivailala, who has 109 1/3 IP as a pro—61 of which in 2014—to his name since converting to relief work from being a position player. Unless the Cardinals are okay with three southpaws in their opening-day bullpen, Villanueva is a good bet to be in it. And, if need be, he can make a spot start here or there for Wacha, Martinez, Wainwright, or any other starter that may require a respite.

The following chart shows Villanueva's splits between relief and starting work:

Split

G

GS

IP

LOB%

K%

BB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

SP

-

76

424.2

71.2

16.9

7.0

5.00

4.72

4.36

Total

390

76

863.2

73.8

20.4

7.9

4.26

4.23

4.06

RP

314

-

439.0

76.5

23.9

8.7

3.55

3.75

3.75

Not surprisingly, Villanueva is a superior reliever to starter. Almost every pitcher is or would be, if given the chance to develop such a split.

Villanueva isn't a splashy signing, but that's not surprising due to the role the Cardinals were seeking to fill. No pitcher that would be considered a big-splash, free-agent signing has "swingman" on his résumé. The righty fits a need the Cardinals articulated back in early December: long man with the potential to make spot-starts. Now all he has to do is pitch well enough in spring training to make the opening-day roster.

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly listed Villanueva's career xFIP. It has been updated to include Villanueva's correct career xFIP of 4.06.