The Cardinals announced Wednesday that they’ve released left-hander Brett Cecil. The veteran reliever was entering the final season of a four-year, $30.5MM deal that proved to be a substantial misstep. The Cardinals also placed infielder/outfielder Brad Miller on the 10-day IL due to bursitis in his right ankle.
From 2013-15, Cecil was quietly one of baseball’s best lefty relievers, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and an even better 2.54 FIP while averaging 11.5 strikeouts, 3.4 walks and 0.53 HR/9 with a 52.2 percent ground-ball rate in 168 1/3 innings. A triceps injury shortened his 2016 season, but Cecil still posted generally solid results in 36 2/3 frames — parlaying that excellent four-year run into the aforementioned Cardinals deal. The size of the contract was viewed as a surprise at the time, but most pundits had agreed that Cecil had a legitimate case at a lucrative three-year deal, and the four-year term was reflective of wide interest in his services in free agency.
Unfortunately for both the Cardinals and Cecil, things went south in a hurry. Cecil lost a mile off his fastball in his first season with the Cards — a year in which he pitched 67 2/3 frames with a respectable 3.88 ERA but diminished strikeout numbers. A shoulder strain and a foot injury limited Cecil to just 32 2/3 innings of 6.89 ERA ball in 2018. Few would’ve thought that with two years to go on the contract, Cecil had thrown his last pitch as a Cardinal, but he missed all of 2019 after undergoing surgery to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome and now won’t get the opportunity to bounce back in 2020 — at least not with the Cardinals.
Cecil had been throwing during Summer Camp with the Cardinals and was even trying out a new sidearm delivery that he hoped would help him to regain his effectiveness. Cecil turned 34 earlier this month, so it’s not as though he’s too old for a bounceback effort to be plausible. That said, it’s been a half decade since he was last an elite reliever and more than two full seasons have passed since he was last serviceable. The hope is obviously that he can bounce back, but it seems unlikely that another club will sign him and immediately test him out in the high-leverage situations in which he once excelled.
The Cardinals had been set to pay Cecil a $7MM salary in the final season of that four-year pact. Prorated, that came out to just shy of $2.6MM — a sum they’ll still owe to the lefty even after cutting him loose. Any club can sign Cecil at this point, and he’d only be owed the prorated league minimum for any time spent on another club’s Major League roster. That sum would be subtracted from what the Cardinals owe Cecil, but regardless of how the year plays out, they’re on the hook for the vast majority of what he’s owed.
As for Miller, he inked a one-year, $2MM deal with the Cards late in the offseason and was expected to fill an infield/outfield utility role — perhaps also seeing some time at designated hitter against right-handed opponents. There’s no timetable for his recovery just yet.