Right-hander Miles Mikolas is scheduled for free agency after the 2019 season, though both he and the Cardinals have interest in negotiating a contract extension. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the team has already been in touch with Mikolas’ agent “about what the framework would look like for an extension,” while Mikolas told Goold and other reporters that he would be open to a longer-term stint in St. Louis.
“It’s something that the Cardinals and my agency have to work out – if the numbers work out and everything turns out to be it’s absolutely something that could happen,” Mikolas said.
Talks may not begin in earnest until the Cards open their Spring Training camp, which conveniently takes place in Mikolas’ hometown of Jupiter, Florida. While most players prefer to have contract negotiations wrapped up before Opening Day in order to avoid distractions, Mikolas doesn’t mind if talks stretch into the season. This could give the Cardinals some time to address other extension candidates, though GM Michael Girsch recently indicated that the team may take something of a wait-and-see attitude towards Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha, and Paul Goldschmidt — the latter because he has yet to play a game in a Cardinals uniform, and Ozuna and Wacha because of some injury concerns in 2018.
Mikolas signed a two-year, $15.5MM deal with the Cardinals last winter in the wake of a dominant three-year run in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants, following an undistinguished 91 1/3 innings with the Padres and Rangers from 2012-14. Mikolas’ second stint in the big leagues was, needless to say, a vast improvement over his first — the righty posted a 2.83 ERA, 5.03 K/BB rate, and 49.3% grounder rate for St. Louis, while his 200 2/3 innings pitched ranked tenth among all MLB starters.
ERA predictors (3.28 FIP, 3.67 xFIP, 3.93 SIERA) weren’t quite as bullish on Mikolas’ performance, and he didn’t miss many bats, with only a 6.55 K/9 rate. Still, Mikolas exhibited excellent control (a league-low 1.3 BB/9) and limited his hard contact, with a .271 wOBA and an only-slightly higher .283 xWOBA. Mikolas turns 31 in August, though his arm hasn’t faced too much of a workload over 10 pro seasons, after Mikolas spent his first five seasons as a reliever. Indeed, Mikolas has looked quite durable over the last two years, with just 200+ inning performance for the Cardinals and a 188-inning performance for the Yomiuri Giants in 2017.
That first Mikolas contract has already proven to be a bargain for the Cardinals, yet Mikolas has also benefited since he has quickly lined himself up for an even larger payday, whether as a free agent next winter or in an extension. Mikolas’ contract came without any allowance for his lack of Major League service time, so the Cardinals don’t retain any arbitration control over Mikolas even though he’ll only have slightly more than three years of MLB service time by the end of the 2019 season.
The Cards haven’t been shy about locking up key players during John Mozeliak’s reign atop the baseball operations department, and Goold estimates that a Mikolas extension could fall somewhere between Kyle Lohse’s extension in 2008 (four years, $41MM) and the five-year, $80MM free agent pact Mike Leake signed with St. Louis in the 2015-16 offseason. The Cardinals face losing Wacha in free agency and Adam Wainwright is year-to-year at this point, and while the team has a number of intriguing young arms in the fold, there’s certainly value in keeping a durable veteran like Mikolas amidst these more unproven rotation options.
Mikolas’ unique career history makes him something of difficult player to find a comp for, extension-wise. Mikolas might also feel a desire to lock in another big salary while his value is at its highest, rather than test what is becoming an increasingly hard-to-predict free agent market next winter. Even if Mikolas pitches well for the Cardinals this season, it would be interesting to see what teams would offer a 31-year-old who doesn’t generate a ton of strikeouts, especially if the Cards were to issue Mikolas a qualifying offer in the fall.