Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

shelby miller bravesIf you’re not into football today, here’s a proposed trade for you to discuss, via Jim Duquette:

  • Cubs get Shelby Miller
  • Braves get Willson Contreras and Billy McKinney

On its face, this proposal – not a rumor, mind you – makes sense for each team. The Cubs are looking for controlled, impact starters like Miller (and, indeed, are rumored to have checked in on him). The Braves are rebuilding and are looking for young talent.

But is the value proposition fair for each side?

Miller, 25, looked might good last year in the times I saw him pitch, and he posted a 3.02/3.45/4.07 ERA/FIP/xFIP over 205.1 innings, and was worth 3.4 WAR. Miller saw a sharp uptick in his groundball rate from when he was with the Cardinals (47.7% last year was nearly top 30 in baseball), and his strikeout rate bounced back up a little bit from 2014 (16.6% to 19.9%). The only bit of results that you could probably chalk up to good fortune was the 6.4% HR/FB ratio, which could regress.

Given the increased groundball rate, it should be no surprise to see that Miller relied much more heavily on his two-seamer with the Braves than he had with the Cardinals. He also saw his velocity climb a bit. In terms of projecting future performance, I like Miller to be a very solid three-type starter – with the upside to more – over the next few years.

I mention those years, because those are the three for which he remains under team control. He’s arbitration-eligible for the first time this season, and MLBTR projects him at $4.9 million. Even if you don’t buy Miller’s breakout, and instead think he’s a league-average, two-win-type starter, those guys get about $10 to $15 million in free agency these days, depending on the length of the contract (and other particularities). If Miller’s arb figures go something like $4.9 million, $7.5 million, $10 million, there’s something in the $7.5 to $22.5 million range of surplus value available even if you project Miller to be merely a league average starter. If you believe Miller’s re-emergence last year was legit and sustainable, then the value is considerably higher. (With a younger, less-consistently-established guy like Miller, it’s a little harder to perform a typical surplus value calculation, which is why I’m being more general here.)

So, then, what’s a guy like that worth?

Well, it seems like it’s been a little while since a guy in Miller’s position (in terms of performance and arbitration position) has been traded for prospects. The one that came to mind for me was back in 2011 when the A’s traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for a package of youngsters, including three of the Nationals’ top ten prospects, all of whom were generally in the top 100 overall at the time. Gonzalez, who was also 25 at the time, was probably seen as a little surer bet, having posted back-to-back three-win seasons. Then again, Miller’s been worth a total 6.9 WAR in his career to date, whereas Gonzalez was at 6.5 WAR.

Your long story short? Miller’s probably worth multiple top 100 prospect types, at least one of which is going to have to be arguably a near-term “impact” guy.

Would Contreras and McKinney fit the bill? Well, each will be a top 100 guy when the lists start coming out, and my guess is that you see Contreras uniformly in the top 50 (if not much higher), and McKinney in the 75ish range. It would be painful to part with both in a single deal, but it’s hard to argue that – in terms of value – they aren’t the range you’d be looking at in a deal for Miller.

Contreras could be a future stud, and McKinney could emerge as fantastic with the bat in the big leagues very soon, but being able to add an arm like Miller for multiple, cost-controlled years without trading away from the big league talent pool would be an impressive feat.

To be quite clear, none of that is to say that the Cubs would, or even should, do this particular deal. It’s possible that the organization believes so strongly in Contreras’s upside and future behind the plate that they simply wouldn’t deal him at this point absent an even more impressive return. It’s possible the Cubs don’t value Miller all that highly. And so on and so forth.

I’m saying only that, as I examine this particular proposal, there’s nothing that jumps out to me as absurd on either side.

Would I pull the trigger on this particular deal? Eh. Maybe. I probably wouldn’t as of today, though. Why? Because free agency is only just getting started. I’d want to get just a little more of a feel on what the Cubs might be able to accomplish with cash before saying yes to giving up this much young impact talent for a starting pitcher. If I knew, for example, that the Cubs were going to be able to get a free agent starter on a reasonable deal AND an outfielder? Then, yeah, maybe I more seriously consider this trade.

Of course, you don’t always have the luxury of being able to structure your decisions in such a linear fashion.

Man, this offseason is complicated.

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