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Miller agrees to two-year deal with Cardinals

Lefty 'changes the look' of 'pen, adds flexibility to closer options
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

Andrew Miller finalized his two-year deal with St. Louis on Friday. Is he the answer for the Cardinals at closer?

If Miller has taught us anything in recent years, it's to not get hung up on bullpen roles.

Andrew Miller finalized his two-year deal with St. Louis on Friday. Is he the answer for the Cardinals at closer?

If Miller has taught us anything in recent years, it's to not get hung up on bullpen roles.

"The only place I've closed is in New York, really," said Miller, referring to his last free-agent contract with the Yankees. "Dellin Betances is a pretty darn good pitcher, and I think he and I just committed to being as flexible as we can with the manager. I've seen the way that pays off."

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The Cardinals, with young flamethrower Jordan Hicks poised to play the Betances role, hope for a similar payoff with Miller. According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, his deal guarantees $25 million over the next two seasons and has a $12 million vesting option for a third if Miller pitches 110 combined games in 2019-20.

The acquisition came two weeks after the Cardinals landed the big bat they'd been seeking with a trade for Paul Goldschmidt and shifted their focus to the back end of the bullpen. That led them to Miller, who has been one of baseball's best left-handed relievers since converting to the role with Boston in 2012, and twice finished among the top 10 in American League Cy Young balloting while with the Yankees and Indians. Miller is 33 years old and coming off a season in which he was limited to 34 innings in 37 appearances because of injuries.

Tweet from @Cardinals: The #STLCards have agreed to terms with free-agent left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller on a two-year (2019-20) deal with a vesting option for the 2021 season. #TimeToFly pic.twitter.com/2v6rfivKpq

But Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak cited some history in explaining the club's confidence in Miller's current health. When he was with the Marlins, Miller was treated by Dr. George Paletta, who is now the Cardinals' head physician. Paletta has "a lot of confidence in where Andrew is at this point," according to Mozeliak, who referred to a right knee injury that proved particularly problematic last year as "a non-issue."

With the health question answered to the club's satisfaction, the Cardinals were relatively aggressive in their pursuit. Mozeliak said he'd been in touch with Miller's agent, Mark Rodgers, on a near-daily basis since first expressing interest at the GM Meetings in November.

"A couple of things come to mind," Mozeliak said. "He has pitched on the biggest stages in the world. He has pitched at an elite level. His character, his competitiveness and his leadership. All of this has led us to pursuing him this offseason."

The feeling was mutual.

"When the Cardinals call," Miller said, "you take notice."

Video: Cards agree to deal with reliever Andrew Miller

Miller was a force for Cleveland after a midseason trade in 2016, earning AL Championship Series MVP honors for a team that pushed the Cubs all the way to a World Series Game 7. Miller logged 19 1/3 innings that postseason while pitching in 10 of the Indians' 15 games, helping to usher in an era of increased reliance on bullpens throughout baseball. He was an All-Star in 2017 but saw his ERA climb to 4.24 in 2018 with the Indians while battling hamstring, knee and shoulder issues that required three stints on the disabled list. Those health issues have been resolved, Miller indicated on Friday.

"I feel like I'm in a great spot," he said. "Last year was a grind, and I feel like we put together a plan, and I'm in a great place now. I'm confident that it's not going to be an issue, and I can show I'm the pitcher who I've been the past however many years. … My expectations for myself are pretty high."

Video: STL@ATL: Hicks whiffs Albies with a filthy sinker

Mozeliak didn't commit one way or the other to the question of Miller closing games, saying only that the Cardinals believe they now have multiple pitchers, including Miller, capable of handling such opportunities. But the Cardinals, like so many other clubs, want to preserve flexibility in how they deploy relief arms.

The Cardinals don't have a clear closer at this point, though young, hard-throwing right-hander Hicks is certainly an option. With Miller, they would be hoping for better results than some other recent relief pickups, which include Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland, none of whom replicated past success. To make room for Miller on the 40-man Major League roster, the Cards have designated right-hander Ryan Meisinger for assignment.

"We feel we added someone who will change the look of our bullpen," Mozeliak said.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com.

St. Louis Cardinals, Andrew Miller