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Transaction Analysis 7/22: Cards Release Cecil and put Brad Miller on IL

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Media Day Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Cards announced the following transactions today:

7/22/20: Placed LHP Brett Cecil on unconditional release waivers. Placed UT Brad Miller on the 10-day IL, retroactive to July 20th (right ankle bursitis). 40-man roster is at 35. Club Player Pool at 56.

Coughlin’s Law. “Bury the dead, they stink up the joint.” Okay, this isn’t nice or fair, but it would be the understatement of the year to point out that the Cecil contract has not worked out. After being a stud reliever for the Blue Jays in 2014 and 2015 and alternating between brilliant and maddening in 2016, the Cards inked Cecil to a 4-year $30.5 million free agent deal. This was the largest contract ever given to a Cardinal reliever.

Cecil actually had a decent season in 2017 with a career-high 73 appearances and DRA- of 91.8. But even then, there was still cause for concern, as his strikeout rate dropped by 5%, and he all of a sudden couldn’t get left-handers out, even with his curveball, which was supposed to be his best pitch. He held right-handers to a .205/.230/.331 slash line, but lefties crushed him to the tune of .333/.397/.539.

Things only got worse from there. In 2018, he pitched on opening day, but was put on the injured list before the next game with left shoulder soreness and didn’t return to the club until May 11th. He also had an issue with right foot tendinitis while he was on the IL and was placed in a walking boot for a while. That inflammation caused him to miss another 3 weeks of the season later on Although he managed to pitch 40 games, it was painful to watch, as his velocity dipped, and his strikeout rate dropped all the way down to an ugly 12.1%. He had been a 30% or so strikeout pitcher during his last 4 years with the Jays. His walk rate soared to almost 7 men per 9. He ended up with a -1.4 WARP and a 192.2 DRA-, meaning he was 92.2% worse than average.

Cecil showed up to 2019 spring training having lost 40 pounds from his playing weight the previous season, but this apparently caused some mechanical issues, which he tried to fix over 2 weeks of sitting out. His official diagnosis at the time was carpal tunnel syndrome in his right hand and he lost feeling in two fingers. He was also dealing with arm fatigue. The Cards put Cecil on the injured list to start the season, then moved him to the 60-day IL after the first game of the season to make room for the depth AA reliever on the 40-man roster the club claimed on waivers. He never saw any game action, even in a minor league rehab assignment. In the first spring training back in February of this year, Cecil was slowed by a hamstring injury. When summer camp opened, he tried a new sidearm delivery that was said to be approved by pitching coach Mike Maddux. In intrasquad games, however, his fastball topped out at around 80 mph and he lacked control.

Cecil’s $7 million salary for 2020 is guaranteed, so the Cards don’t save money with this move. On a pro-rated basis, they will still owe him $2,592,593. They didn’t really need the 40-man roster space, at least not right now. The obvious conclusion the Cardinals reached was that Cecil simply couldn’t get major league hitters out anymore.

The interesting issue this presents is that the Cardinals are rapidly running out of 40-man roster pitchers to use on opening day. The Cardinals have to set their opening day roster by tomorrow at Noon EST. Although the Cardinals don’t play tomorrow (actually there will only be two games), tomorrow is still MLB opening day. The club has said there will either be 16 or 17 pitchers on the 30-man opening day roster. We know the starting rotation is Flaherty, Wainwright, Hudson, Mikolas and Martinez. Brebbia is on the 60-day IL and out for the season, and Hicks has opted out of the season. Cabrera and Reyes will not be ready for opening day due to delays from the COVID virus. Gallegos and Sanchez are currently on the COVID-19 Related Injury list, even though they have been cleared to throw, as I have discussed ad nauseum over the last couple of days.

Assuming that the Cards will go with 16 pitchers, that leaves 11 more pitching jobs on the opening day roster. But there are only 10 pitchers left on the 40-man roster: Fernandez, Gant, Gomber, Helsley, Kim, Andrew Miller, Ponce de Leon, Seijas, Webb and Woodford. The highest level Seijas has pitched is Class-A Advanced Palm Beach, and that was only for 10 games. He’s not ready for the majors, and he was never expected to be with the big club this year. Even assuming the Cards use all of the remaining 40-man roster pitchers, there are still 2 more spots to fill. The club has announced that Kodi Whitley will make the club, but that still leaves another spot. The only thing I can figure will happen is that either Gallegos will be ready to go, or the club will add Johan Oviedo. My guess is the Cards will wait until the last minute to make this call. It doesn’t look like 17 pitchers is even a possibility at this point.

Brad Miller was signed to be a lefty bat off the bench, and figured to get some time in the DH role. But he missed time with lower back stiffness in the first spring training, and has been slowed by issues with his heel and ankle during summer camp. They’re officially calling it right ankle bursitis. So has the dream of everyone that Dylan Carlson will be added to the opening day roster come true? Sorry, but no. When the final opening day roster is announced, J.P. Hill and I will have a debate on the merits of this with a full roster analysis. But for now, just understand that the Cards have consistently said that unless Carlson is going to start, he’s not coming up. With Andrew Knizner apparently making the roster already as the third catcher, it appears that Austin Dean, who has impressed in camp with his offense, is now going to make the club. I would have thought Justin Williams would have replaced Miller as a lefty bat. We will soon find out.