Although he was a popular Chicago Cubs target in the minds of commenters over the past few weeks, such that I wrote about the possibility on Halloween, Andrew Miller has not really been connected to the Cubs much in the way of actual rumors. The Cubs are believed to be in a market for a relief arm and have been connected – repeatedly – to David Robertson, but not so much Miller.
Well, Patrick Mooney changes that with his pre-GM Meetings write-up, which is well worth a read for a wide swath of reasons. I’ll assume now that you’ve read it, and I’m going to zero in on Mooney’s comment that, “People around the team say lefty Andrew Miller would make a lot of sense as the new lights-out reliever.”
To be sure, that’s probably true for most teams in baseball, but not every team has the financial flexibility of the Cubs, and the hybrid need for a lefty/back-end reliever. And, yes, it would be awesome to have Miller in the bullpen to pair with Rondon/Ramirez/Strop/Grimm/etc. Talk about shortening the game to six innings.
Over the course of the Week of Robertson Rumors, I eventually did come around to the idea that the Cubs could stand to add a sure-fire back-end reliever this offseason, even if I’m still leery about the team committing multiple years at $10 million per to such a guy. On Miller, specifically, I wrote this:
Well, here’s the thing: Miller is one of the top two or three relievers on the market this year, and he’s going to be paid handsomely. MLBTR projects a four-year, $32 million deal. The FanGraphs crowdsourcing project has him at 3/$24 million. Given that Koji Uehara just got two years and $18 million from the Red Sox, despite being 39 and having a deep slide in the final two months of the year, I think Miller could easily get that four-year deal. Call me crazy, but I don’t think 4/$40 million is out of the question, given the way bullpens are being valued these days.
Is adding a top notch reliever to the pen going to be one of the Cubs’ best uses of $10 million this year? Especially given relievers’ notoriously finicky performance nature?
Speaking of which, Miller was an absolute beast this year – 62.1 IP, 2.02 ERA, 1.51 FIP, 1.58 xFIP, 2.3 WAR – but it was a clear breakout for him. In his first two years as a reliever with the Red Sox in 2012 and 2013 (after years of struggling with his command as a starter), Miller posted an excellent 30.2% and 35.6% strikeout rate, and a scary 11.8% and 12.6% walk rate. Then this year, the strikeout rate exploded higher to 42.6% and the walk rate dropped dramatically, to just 7.0%.
There is probably something to the evolution, given that he became a fastball/slider reliever, exclusively, in the last two years, and he’s seen his velocity rise (Brooks). Maybe that’s enough to give you confidence that his breakout is sustainable.
The upside with Miller is absolutely legit, as he could be a two-win reliever over the next several years – that’s a tremendously valuable weapon to have at your disposal, and is definitely worth more than $10 million per year.
But will he stay at that level of upside for several years? Relievers, man. Their performance tends to be erratic, and, moreover, they’re still pitchers, vulnerable to the nasty things that sometimes happen to pitchers.
Ultimately, unlike with Robertson, where I can see his market collapsing a bit late in the offseason thanks to the qualifying offer, I don’t see Miller’s market falling down much at all. Further, while Miller’s upside is undoubtedly higher, his track record of success in this role is much shorter than Robertson. If the question becomes four years and $40 million for Miller, or a market-busted three years and $24 million (plus the loss of a third or fourth round pick) for Robertson, it seems like Robertson is probably the better move. Or, well, neither of them.
I’ll be intrigued to see if the Cubs pop up in more Miller rumors as the offseason goes on, but he’s going to be a supremely popular target out there, and, while I see the merit in the Cubs adding another back-end reliever to the mix, I have a hard time seeing him – at his expected price tag – being the best fit for the Cubs.