Versatile Villanueva hungry to experience Cardinals baseball

Veteran pitcher can be used as starter or reliever

Versatile Villanueva hungry to experience Cardinals baseball

JUPITER, Fla. -- As Carlos Villanueva began the free-agent hunt for a new club this winter, he relayed one request to his agent: "I would like to go away from the Central."

That was mostly for been-there, done-that reasons, as Villanueva had already spent five years (2006-10) with the Brewers and another two (2013-14) with the Cubs. In between, he escaped east to Toronto for two seasons.

He was beginning to sift through other offers and interest when the Cardinals first reached out in mid-January. Told so by his agent, Villanueva did an about-face.

"I said, 'That changes everything,'" he recalled.

The rest is history, as Villanueva accepted the Cardinals' offer -- a Minor League deal -- with an eagerness to find a fit on a perennial contender. A 10-year Major League veteran, the right-hander has pitched in the postseason only once.

"I couldn't pass it up," said Villanueva, who went through his first workout with his new club on Friday. "I signed up here to do what I've done my whole career, which is a little bit of everything. I have worn many hats in my career, and I have no problem doing that, especially with a winning team like this. I feel like what I can do goes a lot further with a team like this. You can spell a starter. You can spell your main bullpen guys. You can throw multiple innings here or there and bounce back."

Villanueva's versatility is what appealed to the Cardinals. He provides protection in case the Cardinals need help in the rotation, but he could also fill different roles in the bullpen. Villanueva would be a natural fit in a long-relief role with the ability to also assist as a middle reliever pitching shorter stints.

Despite a career 4.26 ERA, Villanueva has been better out of the 'pen, where he has a career ERA of 3.55. In two seasons with Chicago, Villanueva posted a 2.79 ERA in relief.

The Cardinals will use him as a reliever during Spring Training, but they intend to find opportunities for him to get multiple innings in some appearances. The club will not hesitate to add Villanueva to the 40-man roster -- there is currently one opening on it -- at the end of camp should a role fit.

"He's flexible, and he understands his role very clearly and what he's trying to do making this club," manager Mike Matheny said. "The versatility he brings could be a huge asset for us. We'll get him out there and use him as much as we can."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.