St. Louis Cardinals finalize deal with Matz, has other offers pending

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New St. Louis Cardinals lefty starter Steven Matz had a benign reason to be in San Diego early this month during the annual General Managers’ Meetings, but he wasn’t going to let an opportunity to mingle pass him by.

“My wife’s a musician, and she was playing some shows out there,” Matz explained Monday during his introductory press conference. “It just kind of worked out good. Ultimately, that was definitely like, hey, we definitely want to have some certainty. And so I think that was a good opportunity to kind of move the ball forward with that.”

The uncertainty gripping baseball as a lockout looms at midnight Thursday left Matz, along with many others, moving quickly to secure their spots rather than spending a winter out in the cold. St. Louis, a short drive from Matz’s home in Franklin, Tenn., also came with opportunities to play alongside one of the game’s most highly regarded catchers and benefit from a defense that was recently named the best in baseball.

Matz and the Cardinals agreed to a four-year contract which guarantees him $44 million but also carries significant incentives for pitching a certain number of innings in each season.

“The advice I got is trying to pick a place that will also set you up for success,” Matz said of the “fun” free agency process. “After meeting with a lot of the staff there, I really felt like also that they would help me take my game to the next level.”

Reaching that level will require Matz, more than anything, to stay on the field. The press release sent by the team at the conclusion of Matz’s introduction highlighted the 14 wins he recorded in 2021, good for second among all pitchers in the American League.

Those 14 wins were possible thanks to Matz making at least 29 starts for the third consecutive full season (he started nine games in pandemic-shortened 2020). After early career injuries which threatened to derail his success, Matz has become a reliable pitcher for 150 innings every season, and in that role, will fill out the middle of the Cardinals’ rotation for the next four years.

President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak lyrically described the club’s interest in Matz, numbering off the reasons the Cardinals found a fit.

“One is, we think he’s a really good pitcher. Two, he’s left handed. Three, he throws strikes. Four, we think he’ll take advantage of our defense and our ballpark. Five, we think he’s a winner. And six, he’s a good person. And so that led us to where we are today.”

Mozeliak described starting free agency with a “focus definitely on starting pitching.” He also acknowledged the free agent market reaching a “fever pitch” beginning Sunday and carrying through Monday, and suggested the Cardinals may not yet be done adding supplements in the coming days.

“We have some offers out there,” Mozeliak acknowledged, declining to identify which or what types of players have contract offers in hand from the Cardinals. “We’ll see if they land or not.

“We’re going to continue to try to beef up our club as best we can. If the clock strikes midnight, and we haven’t done so, well, there will be more time on the other end.”

Both “additional bullpen arms” and “a different type of hitter” were mentioned by Mozeliak as potential targets for the club on the free agent market. A mid-season acquisition in 2021, reliever Luis García remains available in free agency. So too does Archie Bradley, who could fill the role García handled down the stretch but has more experience as a closer should incumbent Giovanny Gallegos falter.

As the negotiations around a new collective bargaining agreement are expected to result in the permanent expansion of the designated hitter to the National League, a left-handed hitter with power who could play both first base and the corner outfield spots in a pinch has appeal to the Cardinals. Former Cardinal Brad Miller could fit in that role, as could long-time Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager.

Any multi-year agreement that a team and player are hoping to execute prior to the looming work stoppage would likely need to be agreed to by Monday night, or perhaps very early Tuesday, in order to allow for time for a physical to be conducted and the contract to be registered prior to the game’s anticipated full-stop.

That rush is what Steven Matz sought to, and did, avoid, and for his reward, he’ll spend the first of his four years in St. Louis pitching with a fellow starter and to a catcher who helped break his heart as a young New York Mets fan in 2006.

“The team they have, the incredible defense, the run they went on last year, the excitement of the fans, the great ballpark,” Matz mused as he explained his excitement for coming to St. Louis. “These are all things that you start to think about, and, I feel extremely blessed that I was able to make a decision. This is kind of the point you want to get to in your career.”