The Cardinals had a few problems last season, and among them was unreliable relief pitching. As a means toward addressing that, they’ve given free-agent lefty Brett Cecil a four-year contract, worth $30.5 million. It also has a full no-trade clause! Very clearly, Cecil didn’t come cheap. A number of teams expressed a willingness to guarantee Cecil three years, so the Cardinals stepped up and went one extra.
It wouldn’t be hard to spin this in a negative way. Relievers feel like they’re unpredictable, right? So investing in them long-term might be a fool’s errand. And, last year’s average reliever had a 3.93 ERA. Cecil had a 3.93 ERA. He also finished with the eighth-lowest WPA among relievers, meaning he was even less valuable than his regular statistics. On top of that stuff, Cecil missed a month and a half with a lat injury. He didn’t have a banner first half.
Yet, he did have a much better second half. The healthy Cecil was dominant. Here’s his last pitch of the regular season:
That’s just in there for a pretty visual. Cecil finished the year effective, and he was effective in seasons previous. There’s been a certain response to this contract:
But I just don’t agree with that. I don’t think this is the least bit strange or surprising. Cecil got four years and $30.5 million with a full no-trade. Last winter, the Orioles gave Darren O’Day four years and $31 million, with a partial no-trade. They’re very similar contracts, given to a pair of non-closers, and in this table, check out their numbers over the three seasons before signing:
Three Seasons Before Signing Contracts
||30 – 32
||27 – 29
O’Day has the edge in hit and run suppression. Cecil has the edge in peripherals, age, and velocity. While O’Day might’ve been the tougher pitcher to square up, Cecil has made it hard to just put the bat on the ball, and he also has the advantage of a few years of youth. I don’t see how Cecil’s contract, then, is a market-changer. Was O’Day’s contract a market-changer? If so, this one just falls right in line. It might come as a little startling to see a non-closer get four years guaranteed, but Cecil didn’t start this, and there was already emphasis being put on finding better non-closers before. This seems like it’s normal. Brett Cecil’s contract feels normal.
Now, it’s worth noting, perhaps, that O’Day wasn’t great in the first year of his four-year deal. Maybe that means all of this is unwise. But in reality, it’s not that relief pitchers are all that unpredictable. It’s that they just have smaller samples of playing time, and the reduced samples make them unpredictable. They still project like anyone else. And Cecil projects to be fine, and the Cardinals bullpen projects to be good. They can check that priority off the list.