The history of relievers signing four-year deals is, to put it mildly, terrible. I’ve found 13 such contracts for relievers, one of them for five years (B.J. Ryan with Toronto) and the rest for four.
While some are still in progress, I think we could charitably say three worked out or are working out so far: Andrew Miller’s current deal, Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year deal with the Phillies, and Mariano Rivera’s deal with the Yankees that began in 2001.
As for the others, Ryan and Justin Speier were released before their deals ended. Joe Nathan blew out in Year 3 and was awful in his first year back. Steve Karsay produced 2.5 WAR in Year 1 and literally produced 0.0 afterward, missing one year due to injury. Scott Linebrink produced 1.8 WAR over his four years. David Robertson and Darren O’Day have had rough starts in their ongoing deals. Even Craig Kimbrel, now entering the final year of his deal, has lost value in each year of his contract and has been traded twice.
So why are the St. Louis Cardinals going long on Brett Cecil, the No. 44 free agent on my rankings? Well … I’m not sure. He’s better than he showed in 2016, when the Blue Jays misused him a bit as a lefty specialist even though he has always been effective against hitters on both sides of the plate. They lost Zach Duke to injury, so they had a clear need for someone in that role, and Cecil is good. Is he $7.5 million a year good?