Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

andrew miller yankeesThree rumor-based data points to consider up front on this:

(1) There were rumors before the Winter Meetings that the Cubs were pursuing a top closer type, and thereafter rumors about bullpen pursuits continued;

(2) Rumors about the Yankees shopping reliever Andrew Miller circulated even before the Yankees traded for Aroldis Chapman; and

(3) The Cubs reportedly had interest in Miller last year in free agency before he inked a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees. I was a big fan.

Taking that all together, if I were to see a report indicating that the Cubs might consider trading for Miller, it would at least pass the smell test for me (even if the particulars could still make a deal difficult).

And, hey, there’s probably a reason I’m writing this post, eh?

Bruce Levine reports that the Cubs are “hell bent” on deepening their bullpen, and connects the team to possible trade candidate, Andrew Miller. Levine mentions the possible matchup problem for the teams, as the Yankees are said to be looking for young starting pitching in a deal for Miller (which makes a lot of sense when you take even a casual glance at their rotation, which must make Yankees fans uneasy). The Cubs don’t have much of that, and, even if they did, the Cubs would want to hang onto it. Levine points out that the Cubs could instead consider offering young positional talent, given that much of the Yankees’ positional starting group is aging.

After reinventing himself as a reliever with the Red Sox Рa process that started in 2011, by the way, when Theo Epstein was still in charge there РMiller has emerged as one of the best relievers in the game the last two years, posting utterly ridiculous numbers (ERAs, FIPs, and xFIPs all right at or below 2.00, and WARs of 2.2 and 2.0 in just 60ish innings of work). He has worked the most important innings in those years Рin the tightest games at the tightest moments, when the win probability is most fundamentally shifted in one direction or the other*. Hence his win probability added (WPA) of 5.8 over those two years, making him the 13th most valuable pitcher in all of baseball Рincluding starters Рby WPA in 2014 and 2015.

The things that cut against using top young player assets to acquire Miller are basically a combination of his age (31 next year), his salary cost (he makes $9 million each of the next three years), and his role (a reliever). To be honest with you, none of those three things bother me too much. His flexor injury last year is probably the one thing that would give me pause, though I should point out that it was very short term, didn’t really limit his total innings last year, and his velocity was fine after the injury.

I suppose the other thing that cuts against going after Miller is the current Cubs pen, which is already fairly strong, and projects to be among the top five in baseball next year without another move.

… but it’s impossible to have followed the Cubs of the last few years and not be terrified thinking about how quickly bullpen depth and effectiveness can fall apart, and how many games that can cost a team in April and May while they figure out and install alternatives (something the Cubs have fortunately been very good at). Having an elite guy like Miller in the mix could go a long way to ensuring better performance earlier in the year.

So, at bottom, this is interesting. I’m not sure we’ll actually see the Cubs go aggressively after someone like Miller, because the acquisition cost would be quite high, and then you’re also paying a post-30 reliever $9 million per year. I think the Cubs can and will be quite good without adding another late-inning reliever, though I also think they’ll continue to explore their options there as Spring Training approaches.

And, hey, maybe that exploration will lead them to Miller.

*(Yes, runs in the first inning count just as much as runs in the 8th or 9th inning. But in the first inning, you don’t know if you’re playing in a 5-4 game or a 10-0 laugher. Late-inning, elite relievers can be brought into games when you already know that the stakes are at their highest, and appearing in that particular game (as opposed to yesterday or the next day) is incredibly valuable.)

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