Trading for Andrew Miller

Is it time to make a serious run at Andrew Miller, the New York Yankees dominant lefty reliever? Ken Rosenthal reported this weekend that the Yankees are going to be sellers prior to the August 1st trade deadline, and while he mentioned reliever Aroldis Chapman and outfield/DH Carlos Beltran as the players the pin-stripes are most likely to move, Miller is clearly the name that would answer many needs of this season's World Series contenders, including and especially your Cleveland Indians.

He also would cost the team a whole hell of a lot, in both money, and prospects.

Miller truly is a conundrum for a team like the Indians, who quite clearly don't like to spend a whole lot of money on their bullpen, and hate taking major risks for arms past the age of 30-years old. While they have become the poster-team for signing 40-ish bullpen arms and finding ways to revitalize them, most of those arms either come to the club via a minor league deal, or some sort of incentive laden deal that borders in the $1-2 million range.

On the other hand, the Indians don't like renting players, and Miller wouldn't be a rental. He's signed for the next 2 1/2 years (he signed a four-year, $36 million deal by the Yankees prior to the 2015 season), and he's arguably been one of the top two or three relievers in all of baseball over the past three seasons. When you incorporate the fact that he's a lefty, his value takes another step, since dominant left-handed relievers don't grow on trees.

Miller certainly doesn't need revitalization, and while WAR never values relievers, you could argue that the immeasurable domino effect that adding a trust-worthy, back-end, lefty reliever could completely shift the dynamics of the Indians struggling bullpen.

Of course, trading for Miller would immediately make him the highest paid member of the team, and I'm pretty sure that Chris Antonetti's playbook doesn't include a reliever making nearly $10 million, let alone topping his payroll. It's equally likely that the Indians won't make the payroll to be able to make a deal for the left-hander.

With all of that said, the Indians are in a position they truly haven't been in in several years: they're one of the best teams in all of baseball, maybe the best, and have a legitimate shot at a World Series Championship.

That's right, I said it, the Cleveland Indians just might be the best baseball, and if they fix the bullpen, health could be the only derailment.

The Cleveland Indians line-up and rotation have been sensational coming out of the All-Star break, but the Tribe's "first-place problem" bullpen just feels bigger to me than just one of those things you chuckle off because you're 6 1/2 games ahead.

As of right now, the Terry Francona's club is sitting with a 53-37 record, which is second best in the American League, and fifth best in the Major Leagues. According to fangraphs, the Tribe is projected to win 92 games, and I've seen other projections showcasing them at 95 and 97 games.

They're a really good baseball team, that really could be great.

So while it's trendy and fun to say, "first place problems," the serious reality is that World Series Champions tend not to have the type of bullpen problems that are hindering the team on a nightly basis.

They also need to overcome a serious usage problem, as Francona either doesn't trust the arms in the pen, or he has a mysteriously large doghouse that not only includes 2/3rds of the pen, but also all the minor league arms they've been developing over the years.

The Indians' bullpen philosophy

The Indians historically have not spent money on bullpen arms, especially since they signed Kerry Wood to a two-year, $20.5 million dollar deal to be their closer prior to the 2009 season. Since that deal burned them, the only other free-agent signing they've made since was John Axford in 2014, and he was a free agent entering arbitration, and signed a fairly modest $4.5 million contract, and was gone before the end of the year.

This isn't to say they're averse to paying a reliever, but the diminishing return of the arms involved often leads the club to move salary before it gets out of hand. Take Chris Perez into account, who was a cost effective closer when he was acquired by the Indians from the Cardinals. The Indians released Perez after the 2013 season, when he earned $7.3 million, and struggled. While Cody Allen is making $4,150,000 this year, his first of arbitration, the Indians have been very averse to paying a lot of money to the most volatile position in the line-up.

Their philosophy since the Wood signing has been simple, and centered around low-cost.

  1. Develop arms so you can take advantage of pre-arbitration, whether they are acquired via the draft or through trade.
  2. Sign veterans who have struggled in the past, but whom the Indians front office and coaching staff can find either a statistical or mechanical inefficiency that they can take advantage of.
  3. Zach McAllister (a starter with velocity who can't make the rotation)
Sure, there are other nuances to this puzzle, but the bottom line is simple: the Indians don't like to spend money on their pen. They utilize the general consensus among metrics in that even great bullpen arms don't quantify the type of money. In a sense, they're utilizing their bullpen as a market inefficiency.

If the value of a Win Above Replacement is in the $7.5 million range, or even closer to $8 million, Miller's 2-plus WAR lock from year-to-year would make him a value in a pure sense. If you knock out Clay Buchholz from the reliever category, Aroldis Chapman is the highest paid reliever in the game, at $11,325,000, while Miller's already a market efficient eighth, at $9 million a year. Bullpen arms are already a market inefficiency that teams take advantage of (hello KC Royals), and the Indians have spent the past six years trying to blow the doors open on this.

Truthfully, they've somewhat succeeded on this in a grand scale, and while their pens haven't been anything special, the value saved on players such as Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Jeff Manship, Scott Atchison and Matt Albers has been exceptional. Sure, players on the south side of the borderline elite Allen always become untrustworthy, you can argue that the Indians have been able to sign other players to long-term deals based singularly on the fact that they've saved money on their pen.

Sure, it's put most of Cleveland on high blood pressure medication, but in the land of metric-savings, it's been fairly brilliant.

What's my point here?

Taking on salary in one move, in many ways, could still be justifiable based on league metrics, as opposed to team metrics. Of course, the average reliever salary is far below $5 million, so all of this data come hand-in-hand.

You can really sum it all up in one phrase: it's not easy to judge how the Indians value Miller this year, but it's easy to judge the general feeling of brass and bullpen arms: DON'T SPEND THE MONEY.

The only players post Wood to make more than $4 million as a strict reliever are Perez, Axford and Allen, and the only player to sign for more than $4 million is Axford. Trading for Miller would be a move so outside the current regime's box, that the message would be clear.

We're trying to win a World Series.

Trading for Andrew Miller

It's really hard to judge the value of Miller, because the big mouths working for the major sports news networks have skewed the discussion so much. While there have been many that have sounded off about the big return Arizona got for their closer Brad Ziegler, I would argue that the Sox gave up two Single-A prospects with marginal big league potential. If you don't believe me, believe John Sickels, who calls Jose Almonte a back-of-the-rotation starter, and Luis Alejandro Basabe as a future mystery.

I'm as big a prospect beatnik as the next guy, but even I'm not close-minded enough to realize that if you're trying to improve your bullpen, this is exactly the kind of move you make. The Red Sox acquired a .5 fWAR player for their pen for a couple of sorta top ten organizational prospects.

Now, Brad Ziegler isn't Andrew Miller on many levels. He's not as good, and he's not tied up through the 2018 season. Ziegler is a rental, and his ability-level and handedness aren't on the same level as Miller.

In other words: the Indians aren't getting him for two marginal prospects.

That said, the Indians gave up two top tier prospects in Alex White (*edit via T.D. Dery) and Drew Pomeranz, as well as top ten prospect in Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride. Now, I'm not going to argue Ubaldo value in hindsight, but at the time, he was coming off two back-to-back 5-plus WAR seasons, and while you can argue about Jimenez projections, his value at the time was vastly superior to Miller, with the same 2 1/2 years of control. Now, Jimenez was younger, but I think it's negligent based on the fact that as a reliever, it's likely that Miller will maintain a certain velocity level, as opposed to Jimenez. I don't think that's something the Yankees can sell.

Of course, markets from year-to-year are different, and it's unknown what the Yankees would offer. If you're to believe Buster Olney, the Yankees are looking for a return similar to Kyle Schwarber. Let that settle in for a second. Schwarber hit 16 homers in 69 games last year, and while he's missing this season with ACL and LCL tears in his knee, he's one of the 10 or 20 best young players in baseball.

And that's where the Yankees want to start.

So if we're to use common sense here, the Yankees would immediately start with one of the Indians top two players, Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer. There's no reason to quantify either, because the fairweather would have said "put Clint in the deal" last year, and are now boasting intuitive knowledge in proclaiming that "Zimmer should be dealt," based on his diminished numbers this year. Let's just say they'll want one of the two, and be done with it.

I think they'll also be likely to ask for another top prospect in the mix outside of those two, which immediately puts one or two of Brady Aiken, Mike Clevinger, Justus Sheffield, Triston McKenzie and/or Francisco Mejia on the line.

Past that, I think the Yankees will want one more player included, and they'll want all three players to be either Major League locks, or close to the bigs.

So what would the final deal look like?

Here's where I'm starting:

Cleveland sends to the Yankees:

CF Bradley Zimmer
SP Mike Clevinger
C Francisco Mejia

New York sends to the Indians:

RP Andrew Miller

Yeah, it's a lot, and normally, it's a deal that I would laugh hysterically at...and so would Antonetti and Mike Chernoff. I have EHC's John Grimm ringing in my head, "you're giving up too much future WAR vs. not enough current WAR." He's 100% right.

I talked with Jeff Nomina, and in fairness, my potential deal was a bit bigger than this one (adding Diaz, and bringing back Carlos Beltran, who I don't want, but was trying to figure out what the Yankees would start with), but he immediately thought, "that's a lot."

EHC's Mike Hattery also threw his hat into the ring with a potential deal including Zimmer and a smaller piece, or Mejia and a bigger piece. You can see, his thoughts are a lot less than mine, but all these angles help shape up a real deal, don't they.

And this isn't a normal year, is it. The Indians are truly close to contending for a legit World Championship, and as teams start falling off, it's becoming clear that the Indians have the mettle to win it all. With a deep minor league organization after that deal, a good case could be made that it's time to strike while the iron is hot.

So what might a final deal look like?

I feel like one piece isn't enough for the Yankees, and that more than two pieces is too much for the Indians. Antonetti and Chernoff will want to believe they either can utilize a complete and healthy Miller for 2 1/2 more years, or flip him for value similar to what they got, potentially this offseason.

While that sounds insane, realize that Miller's value stays exactly where it is today this offseason, and while I think the Indians would be content with keeping him long term, it's possible they flip him for another valuable big league piece. They aren't going to alter they playbook for one trade.

So what would a final deal look like?

Cleveland sends to the Yankees:

CF Bradley Zimmer
SP Mike Clevinger

New York sends to the Indians:

RP Andrew Miller

Honestly, anything less than this deal by the Indians makes this deal a no-brainer, but the reality may be that the Yankess just don't want to part with Miller, but would instead talk Aroldis Chapman, and his domestic issues. But if Miller's available, and they can get him for this or cheaper, I'm not sure that Antonetti can ignore it.

It seems like a steep price, but a lock-down, trustworthy like Miller may be worth it.

The Indians bullpen, WITH MILLER, today:

CL Cody Allen
SU Andrew Miller (L)
SU Bryan Shaw
RH Dan Otero
RH Jeff Manship
RH Austin Adams
RH Cody Anderson

I still think the Indians could then go out and make another minor move to bring in my boy Clay Collins Will Smith, the lefty from the Brewers who could round out this pen quite nicely, especially considering some of the guys that they could bring up.

This move would be way out of line for the Indians, and honestly, for my line of thinking, but in the end, this is a season that isn't in line with any of the past several years. Now's the time for the Indians to use some of the commodities they've built up, and go for that elusive World Series championship.

Miller is a difference-maker, and while he can't fix Tito's usage, if the front office acquires a couple trustworthy pieces that Francona can't ignore, the lost value of the future could turn into ten times the value today.

What would you deal for Miller, if anything (vote, and leave comments below)?

The price for Andrew Miller?

The price for Andrew Miller?

The price for Andrew Miller?

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