Left-handed reliever Brett Cecil agreed to a four-year, $30.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, a team source familiar with the deal told Yahoo Sports, cranking up the market for mid-level relievers in a year teams have fewer free agent options to lavish with cash.
Cecil, 30, is coming off his worst season since switching to the bullpen full-time in 2013. Over the previous three years, he had been one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball, nearly as tough on right-handed hitters as he was lefties, but injuries limited him to 36 2/3 innings last season, and an uncharacteristically high home run rate and poor luck on batted balls ballooned his ERA to 3.93.
St. Louis is banking on his return to 2013-15 levels, in which he posted a 2.67 ERA over 168 1/3 innings and struck out 216. The Cardinals are betting especially on his curveball, which Cecil threw nearly half the time last season and which has become a pitch favored by some teams more in recent years.
The effect on the market, executives and agents told Yahoo Sports after word of the deal broke, could be profound. It almost matches the four-year, $31 million contract Darren O’Day received last season coming off a four-year stretch in which his ERA was 1.92.
The weakness of free agent starting pitching this winter has made the bullpen options that much more desirable. Cecil getting four years could have a trickle-down effect on Daniel Hudson, Joe Blanton, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, Boone Logan and others considered in the middle tier.