'Ideal fit': Matz signs 4-year deal with Cards

November 29th, 2021

When the Cardinals acquired Jon Lester and J.A. Happ at the 2021 Trade Deadline, what they received in the micro was a steadied rotation that was ravaged by injuries, in part because the pair of left-handed veterans leaned on their ground-ball tendencies thanks to the staunch defense behind them. In the macro, it jump-started a revitalized second half that included a historic 17-game win streak and a postseason berth.

If it’s not broke, don’t change it.

The Cardinals on Monday announced that they signed left-hander to a four-year deal, bringing to St. Louis a crucial depth option for the starting rotation that was missing a left-handed look -- and one that leans heavily into his ground-ball acumen. Matz, 30, is coming off a revitalized season in which he pitched to a 3.82 ERA across 29 starts for the surging Blue Jays. Terms of the deal were not announced, but a source told MLB.com's Anthony DiComo that it was for $44 million.

“We really believe that this is an ideal fit for the St. Louis Cardinals,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said in a Zoom press conference. “One, we think he's a really good pitcher. Two, he's left-handed. Three, he throws strikes. Four, we think he’ll take advantage of our defense and our ballpark. Five, we think he's a winner. And six, he’s a good person.”

The Cardinals, who came to terms with Matz late last Tuesday, reportedly whisked the New York native away from the Mets at the 11th hour by committing to a fourth year. Matz was a second-round Draft pick by the Mets in 2009 and spent six mostly difficult years pitching for the franchise, but he now lives in Franklin, Tenn., outside Nashville and said the comfort of pitching closer to home was a central factor in his free-agent decision.

That, along with several other key factors.

“The famous ‘Cardinal Way,’” Matz said. “I've always really admired the way they did things. Being able to throw to an incredible catcher in Yadier Molina is something that also goes into the process. The team, they have incredible defense, the run they went on last year, the excitement of the fans, the great ballpark -- I mean, these are all things that you start to think about.”

In Matz, the Cards landed what represents one of the first white whales of this offseason. The 30-year-old was being courted heavily by several more teams along with St. Louis and New York, and he was expected to command several years in contract comfort. That the Cardinals were reportedly one of the few teams willing to go to a fourth year shows the importance they felt in shoring up a rotation that now would line up as such:

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Jack Flaherty
  3. Steven Matz
  4. Dakota Hudson
  5. Miles Mikolas

Signing Matz might just be the first move in bolstering the 2022 Cardinals behind new manager Oliver Marmol. Mozeliak acknowledged that the club could benefit by adding some more depth to its rotation, especially after seeing the rash of injuries derail last season, but it’s to be determined if that will come in the form of a trade or signing, or be left to internal options. (Also potentially on the to-do list is a left-handed power bat, though Mozeliak said the openness of a DH next season might change such planning.)

Marcus Stroman, another former Met, would be a high-profile fit with his ground-ball talent, but it’s unclear if Matz's signing would price the Cardinals out of his sweepstakes. Returning Happ, Lester or even Wade LeBlanc for depth would also be an option. Meanwhile, Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks, Jake Woodford and Johan Oviedo are chief among those vying internally.

“One hundred and sixty-two games is a long season, and making sure that you have protection and depth is something that we want to make sure we do,” Mozeliak said.

Mozeliak added that his front office has several offers out to prospective free agents, but he declined to say to whom and which type of players. Asked about his priorities the remainder of the offseason, Mozeliak pointed specifically to bullpen arms. To that end, T.J. McFarland has already been re-signed, while righty Luis García could also return from the 2021 team.

But Matz will look to remedy any such need. The lefty last season featured a 46.3% ground-ball rate, slightly below his career average of 48.8 but above the MLB average of 45.1. Given how Lester, Happ and LeBlanc approached their new digs in St. Louis last season, it would stand to reason that Matz would merely lean into that sinker -- which he throws 51.9% of the time.

“I've had a lot of ups and downs throughout my career,” Matz said, “and I would say the last three years or four years, I really started to get an identity of who I am as a pitcher.”

In St. Louis, he will be introduced to five reigning Gold Glove winners -- and one Platinum Glove winner -- returning to the same team. No pitcher signed before can say he's being afforded with such a level of comfort.

“I think that gives you incredible confidence to attack hitters, and when you can have trust in the guys behind you, it just gives you more confidence, which leads to more conviction in your pitches, which ultimately leads to more success,” Matz said. “I'm really excited to have those guys behind me, to say the least.”