Free-agent reliever Nick Wittgren and the St. Louis Cardinals are in agreement on a one-year, major-league contract.
It continues the Cardinals’ theme of the winter in adding depth to the pitching staff, with the team already signing Drew VerHagen to a two-year contract at the beginning of free agency. While Wittgren is not a household name, he is a six-year veteran who has a 3.75 career ERA, and adds depth to a bullpen that needed an infusion of quality arms.
This is not the end of the Cardinals’ pursuit of bullpen help. In fact, it’s just getting started, and Ryan Tepera remains a prominent name that has been linked to them. He is the best remaining free-agent reliever and would drastically improve their late innings, pairing with Giovanny Gallegos, Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks if the latter two 1) aren’t bumped to the rotation and 2) can both stay healthy.
But Wittgren, 30, is a solid upside play for the Cardinals. There were almost a dozen teams interested in the free-agent right-hander and while he is coming off the worst season of his career (5.05 ERA in 60 games with the Cleveland Guardians), he has posted ERAs ranging from 2.81 to 3.42 in each of the last three seasons.
If the Cardinals can get that level of production from Wittgren over, say, 40-60 appearances, this signing will prove to be a steal. And Wittgren comes cheap, so they have room to add not only a Tepera-level reliever, but an impact starting pitcher and/or bat if they want to.
It’s the kind of signing that won’t make headlines, but could pay dividends before too long for Mozeliak and the Cardinals.