Let me repeat that headline: Cleveland should totally trade Andrew Miller this off-season.
Wait! Come back! I promise this is going to make sense. And I promise that I’m not piling on a team just after they lost the World Series. This is about making them better, not about them giving up.
First, we have to acknowledge a few things. Primarily, Cleveland’s run through the postseason was made possible by Andrew Miller. With starting pitchers falling left and right, Miller did what likely no other reliever in Major League Baseball could, pitch six scoreless outings in eight games, totaling 21 strikeouts in 11.2 innings while allowing just seven total baserunners. Cleveland does not get to the World Series without Andrew Miller.
Miller is also, probably, the best reliever in Major League Baseball right now. Since 2014, Miller has pitched 203 regular season games. He’s thrown 198.1 innings, and struck out 326 batters while allowing just 166 baserunners. He throws 95-97 from a difficult angle and compliments that good fastball with the best slider in baseball. Righties cannot touch him any better than lefties. He is big and he seems pretty durable. If you’re building a bullpen, you would build it upon a rock like Andrew Miller.
So why the hell should Cleveland be shopping him?
Cleveland would have made it to the postseason without Miller. And can again.
As much as Miller helped Cleveland get to the World Series, it’s a fundamental truth that they would have made the postseason without him. The Tigers finished eight games back in the AL Central and were never closer than 4.5 games back after September 1. Miller was amazing, but he was not a difference maker.
And Cleveland figures to come back strong in 2017 whether Miller is on the roster or not. Carlos Carrasco will be back from his broken hand and Danny Salazar from his flexor muscle strain at 100 percent. Michael Brantley will have all offseason to recover from the shoulder surgery he had in August. Yan Gomes will presumably be healthier and more productive. And Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor still have a lot of room to grow offensively. With the Royals shedding payroll and the Tigers aging, Cleveland would be the odds-on favorite to repeat as division champs whether they have Miller or not.
Trading Miller can help control rising payrolls.
The fact is that Cleveland, even after it’s incredible run, is not a large baseball market. According to Baseball Reference, the club spent more on salaries in 2016 than ever before, and that payroll will jump again by perhaps as much as $30 million over Opening Day last year. Dealing Miller would allow them to save around $8 million, and potentially bring in young controllable players to play key positions and keep costs down.
Miller is at the height of his value.
Miller already cost an arm and a leg when Chris Antonetti acquired him at the trade deadline. So just think how that value has increased in light of that. To get him, Cleveland traded four players, including an excellent center field prospect in Clint Frazier and another top 100 prospect in former #1 pick Justus Sheffield. That’s a high price. Although the deal totally worked.
And it can get even better if they turn around and capitalize on Miller’s performance. It’s virtually impossible for him to be better than he is right now. And coming off of his excellence in the postseason, his profile has never been higher. Moreover, it’s never been so abundantly clear how important having a shutdown bullpen can be to a team’s success. Even at the height of the Royals’ excellence in 2014 and 2015, we never saw a bullpen clamp down as tightly or for as long as Miller did with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw.
Cleveland should view Miller not as a foundational piece, but as a rental. In doing so, they can recoup a great deal of the value they lost in that original deal with the Yankees, especially since the team that acquires him will be getting him for a short commitment (two years) for roughly half ($9 million) of what the best relievers on the open market (Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman) are poised to receive. If Cleveland can get a controllable player or two back that are similar to, or a step below Frazier and Sheffield, they will essentially be subsidizing their own deadline deal.
Miller was worked very hard in the postseason, and pitchers are delicate.
Now, Miller is pretty durable. He has never had a major arm injury and probably doesn’t figure to start now. However, Terry Francona went to him early and often in the postseason, at a rate and with less rest than he’d ever had in his career before. By the end of the World Series, Miller did see some decreased effectiveness. Better to trade him and let someone else deal with the risk. While some clubs may shy away from him, given that risk, it only takes one willing partner to make a deal happen.
They can always get somebody else at the deadline next year. Or even reacquire Miller himself.
The rises of Cody Allen, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, and Zach McAllister give Cleveland plenty of options in their bullpen for next year. It’s a core that’s good enough to hold down the fort for the first four months of the season. And when July rolls around, Antonetti can again target a dominant reliever to exploit for the rest of the season. Wade Davis may be available. Or David Robertson. Or maybe even Miller will be back on the market. One thing is certain, there will be relievers available at the deadline. There are always relievers available at the deadline. So it doesn’t pay to fall too in love with one, when he could potentially bring in some center field help or a slugging first baseman.
I don’t expect this to be a super popular sentiment, nor do I expect this to actually happen, especially since Miller is essentially a god in Cleveland now. But he’s pretty clearly expendable, and relievers of his caliber have never been more valuable. And they may never will be again. But Cleveland needs to be bold if it’s going to keep its window open beyond just 2017. This would be the boldest of bold stroke that would both acknowledge that Cleveland has to live within a reasonable budget and actually improve upon the best deal from last year’s trade deadline.