JUPITER, Fla. — Brett Cecil earned an interesting distinction among pitchers on the free agent market this past offseason.
The left-handed reliever signed a four-year, $30.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals after spending the first eight seasons of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays and ended up being the only non-closer to get more than a three-year deal.
Closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen signed five-year contracts with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers; Mark Melancon got four years from the San Francisco Giants.
However, no starting pitcher signed for more than three years. Neither did any other relief pitchers.
“We didn’t really have a set numbers of years that we were looking for,” Cecil said following a recent spring training workout at Roger Dean Stadium. “We kind of had a certain dollar figure in mind. When the Cardinals offered four years, though, it was hard to pass up.
“It’s a great organization with a history of winning. At this stage of my career, getting to the World Series is very important and I wanted to sign with a team that gave me that opportunity. And I couldn’t help but be impressed by the commitment the Cardinals showed to me.”
Cecil, 30, came close to getting to the World Series each of the last two seasons as the Blue Jays lost in the American League Championship Series.
He played a big part in the Blue Jays’ success after being converted into a reliever from a starter early in the 2012 season. He had a combined 2.67 ERA in 189 games over his three full seasons of working out of the bullpen from 2013-15 before that figure jumped to 3.93 in 54 games last year.
The Cardinals signed Cecil on Nov. 21, just two weeks after teams could be negotiating with free agents, to give them a second left-hander to pair with Kevin Siegrist in the bullpen. Veteran lefty Zach Duke underwent Tommy John surgery last October and likely won’t be ready to pitch until August.
“If we were going to make a splash in the bullpen, Brett was the one we identified,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “There was a lot of demand for him and the market was moving. We’re glad to have him with us.”
Tim Tebow reported to the New York Mets’ minor-league spring training camp on Monday to great fanfare. Then again, if the former Heisman Trophy winner walks across the street, it is usually to great fanfare.
While many major-league players believe Tebow’s attempt to become a professional baseball player after having not played the game since his junior year of high school is a publicity stunt, Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy is not among them.
“I think anyone who has gotten to know Tim at all knows that his heart is in the right place,” said Murphy, who like Tebow, a Jacksonville, Fla. “He’s a very impressive person and he wants to succeed.”
Murphy spent time some time working with Tebow, whom the Mets are looking at as a right fielder, on his hitting in the offseason and was not surprised that his pupil hit nine home runs on the first day of camp.
“The power is real,” Murphy said. “He needs 500-600 plate appearances to try to make adjustments on the fly. He needs at the at-bats. He’s done all the work and he’s improved a lot.
“But there is no substitute for game experience. In batting practice, the pitcher is trying to hit the barrel of your bat. In a game, he’s trying to not to hit the barrel. Give him a full season to get used to that and I think you’ll see a big difference at the end of the year.”
While many in the Baltimore Orioles organization believe Kevin Gausman is ready to emerge as the ace of their starting rotation this season, a sizable number of talent evaluators from other teams feel that Dylan Bundy has the better chance of being a No. 1.
Bundy, 24, was 10-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 36 games, including 14 starts, last year in his first full major-league season. The Orioles used him in relief until the All-Star break to monitor his workload after he pitched a combined 65 innings in 2014 and 2015 while recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
“He has the kind of stuff where he can go out and dominate in any given start,” a scout from an AL team said. “I think you’ll see that more this year now that’s built up more arm strength. He’s also become a much smarter pitcher since the surgery. He knows he can’t just rely on blowing everyone away for seven innings. He knows to keep a little in reserve.”
Right-hander Lucas Giolito, one of three pitching prospects acquired from the Nationals in the December trade for outfielder Adam Eaton, has the pedigree to become the Chicago White Sox’s ace.
Many inside and outside the organization felt the same way about left-hander Carlos Rodon before the acquisition of Giolito. The White Sox selected Rodon third overall in the 2014 amateur draft and he made his major-league debut in 2015.
The 24-year-old has gone 18-16 with a 3.90 ERA and 1.41 WHP in 54 career games.
“He’s got a lot of talent but, for me, he needs to be more aggressive early in the count,” a scout from a National League team said. “He picks around the corners of the strike zone until he has to throw a strike. His stuff is too good to pick.”