St. Louis Cardinals: Andrew Miller and the 2021 Payroll

After one more appearance, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andrew Miller will have his option vest for 2021. Barring injury or some unforeseen circumstance, it is almost a sure thing that it will vest. What does that mean for the 2021 team?

The St. Louis Cardinals are nearing the certainty of having left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller back with the team for the 2021 season. His option will vest after he appears in one more game this season, and that is almost sure to happen. With the Cardinals in the middle of the playoff push, Miller is one of their most reliable and high leverage arms out of the bullpen.

In his second season with the Cardinals, Miller is currently 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA and also two saves. Famous for his 2016 postseason run with the Cleveland Indians, the Cardinals signed him before the 2019 season to a two year deal with a vesting option for the third year. In case it does not vest, there is a $2.5 million buyout.

In the likely event that his third year vests, Miller will be on the books for $12 million in 2021. That could turn out to be significant. In the uncertain financial environment that baseball is currently in, it is a real possibility that some teams might be looking to dump large contracts or find other ways to reduce payroll to make up for the lost revenue this season. With no fans at games this season, that is a revenue stream that teams are without.

The hope is that things improve and baseball, like the entire world, can return to normal as soon as possible. Hopefully fans will be able to attend games next season, even if in limited capacity at first, much like how football is doing currently.

But the reality is that the lost revenue in 2020 could change the way teams operate this upcoming offseason. If the St. Louis Cardinals decide to hold the line on payroll, or even cut it, having Miller on the books for $12 million could be a factor in their offseason strategy.

Without getting into potential needs, the Cardinals will probably need to make some moves. They also will have to determine what they do with pending free agents Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.

In my personal opinion, the Cardinals would not have picked up Miller’s team option if it does not vest. It is possible they’d maybe look to re-sign him at a lower salary but I think they would look at $12 million for a reliever as something they would prefer to avoid with some payroll uncertainty in 2020/2021.

Let’s look at the possibility the team does look to reduce payroll a bit. They have some decisions, like I mentioned, with Molina and Wainwright. But Kolten Wong has an option as well. Does the team consider declining the option on Wong? Do the Cardinals look at trading away one of their bigger contracts? There is a real chance that the Cardinals will have to make some hard decisions on some fan favorites.

Andrew Miller, statistically, might not be the pitcher he was during his tenure with the Indians. He is still a good pitcher and someone the Cardinals will be better off for having in their bullpen. I was a fan of that contract at the time and I still am. If Miller is a Cardinal in 2021, that is a positive thing. He brings leadership and experience to a bullpen that is one of the team’s biggest strengths.

Here is to hoping that 2021 is better and back to normal for everyone. If fans are able to attend games and MLB is able to have a whole 162 game season, revenue should bounce back.

Assuming that the Cardinals operate under a tighter payroll constraint than usual for building the 2021 team, having Miller on the books could come at the cost of someone else. Again, I’m a fan of Miller. I’m just exploring the implications that could arise if the Cardinals face a tight budget for the 2021 season.

Next: A bubble for the 2020 playoffs is the only way

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Regardless, one of the best relief pitchers in the sport over the last half decade or so will probably be back with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2021 and the team will be in a better position because of it.