Last Friday, I began a series of posts featuring players the Yankees may target in free agency with Pablo Sandoval. Today, with the exclusive negotiating window ending, let’s examine the case for the Yankees to pursue lefty reliever Andrew Miller.
Miller, 30 in May, is a flame-throwing lefty once part of the package sent from Detroit to Miami in exchange for slugger Miguel Cabrera. He was the sixth overall pick in 2006, billed to be a future front-line starter, but opportunities in that role with the Tigers, Marlins, and Red Sox never worked out. His control was poor, leading to a full-time transition to bullpen work with Boston in 2012. Miller embraced the switch, to the tune of a 2.84 ERA, 2.57 FIP, and 34.9% strikeout rate in just under 105 innings since 2012.
2014 was Miller’s best campaign yet, setting career bests in fWAR (2.3), ERA (2.02), FIP (1.51), and strikeout rate (42.6%), just to name a few. Most notable, though, was his improvement in control. He notched a 7.0% walk rate, despite his career mark being 12.6% entering the year. Moreover, he showed virtually no platoon split, posting wOBAs against of .211 and .208 vs. lefties and righties respectively.
For 2015, Steamer foresees more dominance for Miller. While it regresses his strikeout and walk rates to 33.6% and 8.5% each, those are still nothing to sneeze at — likewise a 2.41 ERA and 2.52 FIP in 55 frames. That’s unquestionably elite, so whichever club picks up the southpaw this offseason will significantly fortify its bullpen.
The Fangraphs crowd projects a three-year pact between $24M and $26M. That seems like a hefty price to pay annually a player less frequently utilized than a starting pitcher or position player, but historically relievers tend to receive very high ratios of dollars over projected WAR. Back in March, I came up with roughly $14.4M/WAR for relief pitchers when writing about a potential extension for David Robertson. In case you’re wondering, Steamer pegs Miller for 1.0 WAR next season.
Relative to the Yankees needs, Miller would be a fine fit. Assuming Robertson is back, a bullpen featuring Miller and Dellin Betances up to D-Rob would be dynamite. That isn’t to say it would be bad without Miller, but I think he would be a clear upgrade over Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley. The American League champion Royals capitalized on their ability to shorten games with the tandem of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. With that fresh in mind, why not add Miller, and create a Miller-Betances-Robertson triumvirate? No, it wouldn’t a panacea to the Yankees’ woes the past two seasons, but it’s certainly not a terrible idea.
Despite the pros, I don’t believe the Yankees will pursue Miller unless they believe Robertson is a goner. Miller would be the cheaper option of the two, and bringing in the southpaw in place of Robertson’s move would help fill the void. However, should Robertson stay, I’d guess the Yankees would take their chances with cheaper alternatives, such as the team’s first selection in this year’s draft, Jacob Lindgren. If it was my call, and assuming there were no spending restrictions, I think I’d go after Miller with or without Robertson in tow. If Lindgren subsequently comes up and dominates, then great — the Yankees would have a four-headed bullpen monster.