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Miller Time: Cardinals sign All-Star lefty Andrew Miller to two-year deal

Miller Time: Cardinals sign All-Star lefty Andrew Miller to two-year deal

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The Cardinals’ ongoing quest to add a lefthanded reliever to their bullpen who could handle any late-inning assignment thrown at him has nearly ended with the addition of the All-Star who helped reinvent how bullpens are used.

Andrew Miller and the Cardinals were working to complete a multi-year deal Thursday night, multiple sources told the Post-Dispatch. The two-year contract was finalized and announced Friday morning. The contract will guarantee Miller $25 million million and it includes a third year, for 2021, that will vest based on his appearances, two sources confirmed. He will be paid paid $11 million in each of the first two years of the deal, and it includes a buyout of $2.5 million for the vesting option.

Miller will be formally introduced as a Cardinal during the team's Winter Warm-up event in January.

Miller, 33, is a two-time All-Star and the elite lefthanded reliever the Cardinals have chased this winter to fix the bullpen. He was limited to 37 appearances and 34 innings this past season due to a series of injuries that put him on the disabled list. Any agreement the Cardinals have with the lefty will not be finalized without the results of a physical, and the Cardinals must also create a spot on the 40-man roster with another, corresponding move.

The Cardinals declined comment.

Miller will be the team’s first free-agent signing of the offseason and leave the Cardinals with only a backup catcher on their must-get shopping list. The lefty joins first baseman and six-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt and utility fielder Drew Robinson, both of whom arrived via trade, as new additions for the Cardinals.

The free-agent market has moved sluggishly for most teams, and as of Thursday afternoon the Washington Nationals had netted more free agents (five) than the five National League Central teams combined (four).

The Cardinals engaged in talks with agents for Miller and lefty Zach Britton, with the Yankees and Phillies two of the other suitors for Britton. Unsure how the free-agent market would move the Cardinals also explored trading for a lefty, talking with San Francisco about Will Smith and looking into Brad Hand’s availability from Cleveland, according to a source. They awaited either market to inch forward — possibly before the holiday week.

The Cardinals have lefties Brett Cecil, Chasen Shreve and Tyler Webb already earmarked to compete for roles in the bullpen this spring, and prospect Genesis Cabrera has excited the team with his performance as a lefty reliever in the Dominican. Cabrera, 22, has struck out 21 batters in 14 1/3 innings and has a 1.26 ERA in 20 appearances. Lefthanded reliever was a soft spot in the Cardinals’ bullpen as Cecil struggled to a 6.89 ERA in 32 2/3 innings and five lefties used at least five times combined to allow 53 earned runs in 85 innings for a 5.61 ERA.

When Miller was last a free agent, after the 2014 season, the Cardinals had interest but did not have a closer role to offer him. He signed with the Yankees for four years, $36 million, and in 2016 the Yankees traded him to Cleveland as part of their quick rebuild.

In Cleveland, Miller flourished as a late-inning lefty and a game-changing reliever come October. He won the 2016 American League championship series MVP for his 7 2/3 scoreless innings and 14 strikeouts in four games. He was used when the game was in doubt and for as long as it was in doubt, freed from the arbitrary pursuit of a save stat.

In 22 postseason appearances, Miller has a 1.09 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 33 innings. He’s walked only 11 batters for a 0.879 WHIP in October.

In recent years, the Cardinals have explored using some of their righthanded pitchers in Miller-like roles — targeting them for specific spots in the opponent’s lineup, not specific innings.

Miller offers that versatility to go with being able to neutralize lefthanded batters and he’s three years removed from 36 saves for the Yankees. In his past three seasons, he has 16 saves and a 2.00 ERA in 171 innings. He also has 263 strikeouts.

Righthanded batters have hit .164 against him in their previous 433 at-bats, and Miller has erased the damage lefthanded hitters can do. In the previous 177 at-bats by a lefthanded batter against him, Miller has allowed only seven extra-base hits, including four homers, and he’s struck out 67.

In limited appearances against the National League Central’s best lefthanded hitters, Miller has struck out Anthony Rizzo four times in eight at-bats and held Joey Votto hitless in three at-bats. Former MVPs Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard, both lefthanded hitters, combined to go seven-for-39 against Miller with 16 strikeouts.

Miller went on the disabled list three times this past season, first with a hamstring injury in April and later with an impingement in his left shoulder. He has also dealt with knee injuries the past few seasons.

He returned in time to pitch for Cleveland in the playoffs and walked three of the five batters he faced as part of a blown save against Houston.

In preparation for free agency, Miller underwent a battery of exams with Dr. David Altchek, the Mets’ team physician. The results of those exams were made available to interested teams, a source confirmed.

“Altchek saw absolutely nothing that would keep him from being the old Andrew Miller,” the lefty’s agent Mark Rodgers told The New York Post in November.

At his best, Miller was one of the best relievers in the majors, left or right.

Originally a starter who bounced around the rotations for the Tigers, the Marlins and the Red Sox, Miller moved to the bullpen permanently in the 2012 season. From 2013 through the end of 2017, when he was an All-Star, Miller had a 1.82 ERA in 297 appearances and he averaged 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The only lefty in that same span with a higher strikeouts-per-nine rate was Aroldis Chapman.

Miller’s 0.892 WHIP in 350 games from 2012 to 2017 ranked fourth in baseball among relievers, ahead of Pat Neshek’s 0.971 and behind closers Craig Kimbrel (0.867), Kenley Jansen (0.840), and Koji Uehara (0.839).

To make room on the 40-man roster for Miller the Cardinals designated righthanded pitcher Ryan Meisinger, who was recently picked up off of waivers. They will have around a week to trade the righthander or pass him through waivers to the Class AAA roster.

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