As the calendar turns to February, the St. Louis Cardinals are still looking to improve their club for the 2017 season. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than two weeks, yet many free agents remain jobless. Over the next month we will likely see a handful of players signed to minor league deals with an invite to spring training. These deals are often overlooked, but they can pay off in a big way.
John Mozeliak has been no stranger to signing players in February and March during his tenure as general manager. These types of signings are typically low risk deals and if the innings are available for a player in your spring training camp, there isn’t much downside to bringing someone in for an extended look. I believe we will see more players on these contracts than usual this season because several Cardinals player will be participating in the World Baseball Classic.
Let’s take a look at some of Mozeliak’s more successful February and March signings:
In February of 2015 the Cardinals signed Carlos Villanueva to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training and he certainly made the most of it. Carlos earned a spot in the bullpen coming out of spring training as a long reliever.
Villanueva became a very useful pitcher for the Cardinals over the course of the season. He posted a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings pitched. The Cardinals had the third lowest bullpen ERA in all of baseball in 2015, and Villanueva was a big part of that.
Whenever the Cardinals signed Neshek in February of 2014, I didn’t know much about him. He was another reliever signed to a minor league contract with an invite to big league camp. Neshek was a sidearm pitcher with a very funky delivery. He appeared to just kind of flick the ball to the plate with some strange spin on it.
Neshek earned a spot in the Cardinals bullpen out of spring training and made it count. He ended the season as the Cardinals most valuable relief pitcher with a 1.9 WAR. He also had a 1.87 ERA in 67.1 innings pitched. This signing paid off in a huge way for the Cardinals in 2014.
Lohse is perhaps the Cardinals most memorable spring training signing. During spring training in 2008 John Mozeliak saw a starting rotation that was looking very thin with Matt Clement and Joel Pineiro both dealing with injuries. Lohse was still without a team in mid-March.
Mozeliak signed Lohse to a $4.25MM contract to solidify the rotation and Lohse did just that. He threw exactly 200 innings that season with a 3.78 ERA and was a real workhorse.
Lohse’s 2008 performance earned him a 4 year, $41 million contract. He pitched five solid seasons with the Cardinals and even finished 7th in the Cy Young voting in 2012.
And we can never forget my personal favorite Kyle Lohse moment, when he filled in for Tony LaRussa during his bout with shingles:
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