McClellan released, Johnson signed

It’s the end of the road in a Cardinals uniform for Kyle McClellan. Officially, anyway. We knew it for quite some time. In fact, even McClellan knew it, saying when he had surgery this summer that he figured his time with the organization was over.

GM John Mozeliak informed McClellan of his release today, a week ahead of the team’s deadline to tender offers to it’s arbitration eligible pitchers. McClellan, 28, is one of those players. There were a combination of factors that led to this point.

McClellan’s arm has caused him issues for the past year, culminating in a labrum repair in July. MLB rules prohibit McClellan’s salary from dropped more than 20%, meaning he would have been due at least $2 million this offseason. The team acquired Edward Mujica at the trade deadline and took the reins of the 7th inning role that was to be McClellan’s this year. And finally, the team could use that $2 million elsewhere this offseason as they are projected to once again surpass the $110 million mark in Opening Day payroll.

A 25th round pick of the 2002 MLB Draft out of Hazelwood West High School, McClellan made his MLB debut in 2008 as a reliever. In three seasons as an integral middle reliever in the bullpen, McClellan amassed 217 innings and posted a 3.23 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP. After Adam Wainwright had Tommy John surgery in February 2011, McClellan converted to starting pitcher, something he’d done in the minor leagues and wanted to do in the majors.

Through his first 10 starts in 2011, he posted a 6-1 record and a 3.11 ERA. Then things started to unravel as his innings load surpassed 65 innings. In his next 8 starts, McClellan would post a 1-5 record with a 5.55 ERA. At that point, the Cardinals acquired Edwin Jackson in a trade with Toronto and McClellan headed back to the bullpen.

But he struggled to adapt to the pitching schedule of the bullpen, something he feared would happen. He threw 31 innings out of the bullpen over the final two months of the season with a 4.35 ERA. He was left off the playoff roster for the National League Divisional Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, but was added for the Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers. He worked 1/3 of an inning and allowed 2 hits and an earned run. He wouldn’t pitch again in the 2011 playoffs.

McClellan seemed to get back into form during the early part of the season, holding hitters to a .188 batting average in April. However, arm issues returned in May, leading to a trip to the disabled list and some rehab and then eventually surgery. That spelled the end to his time in Cardinal red.

When he’s healthy, I believe that McClellan has the ability to be one of the best middle relievers in baseball. Just look at his 2010 season. He posted a 2.27 ERA over 75 innings. Someone will take a flier on him going into Spring Training next season and I hope he settles in.

The other news today was that the Cardinals signed catcher Rob Johnson. Johnson, 30, was signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Those invites don’t mean much for a catcher, which is typically an “all hands on deck” position during spring training anyway.

Johnson played last season for the New York Mets’ AAA team in Buffalo, posting a .207/.253/.335 slash line in 45 games for the team. He also played in 17 games for the big league Mets as well. He has some major league backup experience, most coming in 2009 to 2011 with the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres.

He will likely get the opportunity to catch in Memphis, essentially taking the role Bryan Anderson played last year. Anderson, who was removed from the team’s 40 man roster, opted for free agency and has signed with the Chicago White Sox.