JUPITER, Florida (KMOX) – When Brett Cecil found out his annual salary was going to double thanks to a 4-year $30.5 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, he first emotion was surprise, because he didn’t think it would be that high.
“I mean I think I’m good, I think I’m worth every penny,” Cecil says. “And to be honest it’s encouraging and it makes me want to work my ass off.”
He says the plan set by he and his agent was to demand three years and hope for four, as he became an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season. This is his first multi-year deal since he was drafted in 2007 by Toronto. He signed one-year contracts with the Blue Jays in each of the last four seasons.
Although his 2016 ERA (3.93) was his highest through his last four seasons, his strike out to walk ratio (5.63) was the highest of his career. And between June of 2015 and April 2016, he tied an MLB record for consecutive regular season games without allowing an earned run.
Cecil moved through Toronto’s minor leagues quickly, starting 17 games in the majors in 2009, just two years after being drafted out of the University of Maryland. And after a 15-7 record in 2010, he looked well on his way to a top spot in the rotation. But Cecils says his next two seasons were the ‘worst years I’ve ever had in baseball.’
“At times it wasn’t fun, I didn’t want to play anymore,” Cecil says. “But with my wife as my rock, she didn’t let me do that.”
He turned his frustration into motivation, as he embraced a new role in Toronto’s bullpen. The switch clicked for Cecil automatically, although last time he was in the bullpen was when he was a closer for Maryland.
He made his first All-Star team in his first full season out of the bullpen, and since 2013 has a 2.90 ERA. The immediate success is due to three things he says, a new offseason training program, increased velocity becuase he was throwing fewer pitches, and the commitment to go ‘all in.’
“I wasn’t trying to hold anything back or say ‘well maybe I want to still be a starter,'” Cecil says. “No. From that time on I was a bullpen guy, like this is it.”
Cecil believes that mentality is necessary for any relief pitcher, saying even if you are 95 percent committed that is setting yourself up to fail. He compared his change to the likes of closers Andrew Miller and Wade Davis, who both have made a successful switch to the bullpen. A success that has brought them All-Star awards and Cy Young votes, but also, as Cecil points out, lucrative contracts.
Miller will make $9 million through the next two seasons in Cleveland, and David will make $10 million this year as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
Cecil didn’t make his career change in 2012 with dollar signs in the back of his mind, but it is an obvious perk. His base salary paid him $10 million through nine seasons with Toronto, he’ll quadruple that when his Cardinals contract ends after the 2020 season.
“I wanted to make a good living in baseball, I wanted to play for a long time,” Cecil says. “But for me it was, like I said, not going home with a headache every night and trying to figure out what was wrong with me.”
KMOX’s Chris Hrabe contributed to this report.