I gasped this morning when I first checked Twitter. Standing next to my wife in the kitchen, she thought there was a family emergency and gave me an urgent look with eyebrows raised.
“The Indians traded for Lucroy!”. Don’t worry, she’s used to this.
As I made my coffee and looked for details on the deal, more news broke but this made my heart sink – “Oh no, they got Miller too. I bet Frazier is gone”. True enough. But it’s Sunday night and you’re not here for breaking news on the trade market. Let’s dig into the newest Indian as well as the one that got away.
While it may take time before the full details emerge, it appears that Lucroy looked for some indication of the front office’s long-term plans and didn’t like what he heard. It seems probable and reasonable that he wanted to maximize his value by either requiring the Indians to waive his no-trade clause, thereby making him a sought-after free agent this winter, or promise that he’d be the primary catcher next season when Yan Gomes (hopefully) returns at 100% from injury.
Quick detour – here’s a quick chart comparing each player’s WAR since their careers began to overlap in 2013:
Gomes, two years Lucroy’s junior at 28 years old, has a guaranteed contract through 2019 with two team options after that. Doesn’t it seem likely that the Indians just wouldn’t commit anything to Lucroy beyond this season because they’re still counting on a return to Gomes’ 2013-14 levels of production? And doesn’t it also seem likely that Lucroy feared he’d be dealt again by the Indians this offseason? Or worse for his free agency value at age 32, he’d spend next season as a combination backup catcher, part time first baseman, part-time DH?
It’s a shame because Lucroy would have been an ideal fit for the rest of this season. His 2017 team option, which was viewed as a great perk to his contract, actually works against the Indians. If he had only been signed for the remainder of 2016, the Indians could have sent a lesser package to Milwaukee, let Lucroy handle the staff for perhaps a deep playoff run, then let him happily wander off to free agency this winter.
Let’s just get this out of the way. There are two kinds of people in this world – prospect hoarders and prospect distributors. I am firmly in the camp of the former. I love to dream on the potential of young minor league talent, and I place a special value in following a player’s career from draft day to his Major League debut and beyond.
In Clint Frazier’s case, how could you not be intrigued when you saw this guy at pick #5 of the 2013 draft?
But Clint Frazier is gone. So is Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. They’re Yankees now and in all honesty, we have no idea how any of them will turn out. Minor leaguers are funny that way. They’re unpredictable, take years to develop, can flame out quickly….but can at times be worth the wait.
Let’s just talk about Andrew Miller today.
Where did he come from?
- The Tigers drafted Miller sixth overall out of North Carolina in 2006 – one pick before the Dodgers took Clayton Kershaw.
- Miller is an elite reliever and like many stoppers, he’s actually a failed starter. Miller debuted with the Tigers at age 21 two months after he was drafted. He posted a 5.69 ERA in 21 games in Detroit over two seasons before he was included in the trade package used to acquire Miguel Cabrera in December 2007.
- Miller made his last big league start at age 26 in 2011 for the Boston Red Sox. Through his first six seasons he posted a 21-29 record with a 5.79 ERA. In 359.1 innings, Miller had a 1.75 WHIP, walked 5.4 per nine innings, and struck out just 7.2 per nine innings. He was a bust.
- Miller was immediately better as a platoon lefty in 2012 (3.35 ERA with an 11.4 K/9 ratio) and has just gotten better each season. He posted a 3.79 ERA in 3.5 years in Boston, had an electric half season in Baltimore in 2014 (1.35 ERA, 15.3 K/9) and then signed a lucrative four year contract to join the Yankees in 2015
What is he now?
- Let’s compare him to his former bullpen-mate, Aroldis Chapman: This season, Miller edges Chapman in innings (45.1 to 34), ERA (1.39 to 2.12), WHIP (0.772 to 0.853), walk rate (1.4 to 2.1) and strikeout rate (15.3 to 13.0). He’s also signed for two more years while Chapman will be a free agent without any compensation for the Cubs this winter. Miller is three years older than Chapman, however, at age 31.
- How about current Indians closer Cody Allen? Through the exact same number of innings as Miller (45.1), Allen has a higher ERA (2.58), higher WHIP (1.081), higher walk rate (3.6) and lower strikeout rate (11.3). It’s not hard to see how this is an immense upgrade to the bullpen.
- Over the past three seasons, Miller has a 1.86 ERA and a 14.9 K rate, and all of his peripherals are hitting career peaks this season. Improbably, at age 31, Miller is trending in all the right directions, including a cartoonish 11:1 K/BB ratio (Allen’s is 3.12).
What about the future?
- Miller’s $9 million salary is higher than any of the starting pitchers on the Indians’ elite staff. In fact, he makes more than Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, and Danny Salazar combined and will be the Indians highest paid player until Jason Kipnis‘ contract goes up to $9.17M next season.
- That’s not an indictment of Miller’s salary. That’s commentary on just how remarkably team friendly the starters’ contracts are structured. No Indians starting pitcher will make $9 million until Corey Kluber in 2018 ($10.7M) and Carrasco’s $9M option in 2019.
- Allen still has two more years of arbitration and Bryan Shaw has one year remaining, so this group will see salary increases but the Indians won’t have to dip into free agency to bolster the key components of the pitching staff for years to come.
- With two years remaining on his contract, the Indians have the option to deal Miller in the future to recoup some of the prospect haul, or perhaps deal from the Minor League depth as the next class of relievers are ready to be promoted.
Will this trade make a difference this season? Who knows. I still maintain that the playoffs are a coin flip and a late inning fireman guarantees nothing.
Will the Indians miss any of the prospects traded? The odds for success decrease with each level a player is away from reaching the Majors. Frazier is in AAA, may be ready for the Majors as early as next season, and by all accounts appears to be a future All-Star. Feyereisen and Heller are AAA relievers and are imminently replaceable.
Sheffield shows promise but is a 20-year-old in A ball with a wide variation of future outcomes. Just look at Miller – the sixth pick of the draft, traded after two seasons, and who only found success years later as a reliever. Nobody knows how these guys will turn out, but the Indians have the surest bet with an elite reliever added to their big league bullpen.
That’s what this is all about – odds. The Indians improved their Major League depth and improved the odds that they’ll have a wipe-out reliever in a high leverage situation in late season games. They also have fewer prospects to count on as they inexorably move forward to the day when they can’t afford to keep all of the big league talent that they’ve stockpiled.
Burning Up the Farm
I’ll put this here as it may be germane the big league conversation in August or September – Columbus third baseman Yandy Diaz was named the International League Batter of the Week by compiling 14 hits, three doubles, a triple, and a home run in 34 plate appearances. The soon-to-be 25-year-old Diaz is slashing .339/.415/.484 since his promotion to AAA and may be an option in Cleveland before the end of the season.
The Week Ahead
Minnesota Twins (Monday thru Thursday)
40-64, 21 GB of Cleveland
With the Tigers hot on their heels and the winners of six straight, the Indians did what they had to do to stay ahead of the pace this weekend and swept the Oakland Athletics. The Tigers trail by 4.5 as the Indians look to continue to feast on the dregs of the AL when they host Minnesota.
Projected Starting Pitchers
Monday, 8/1, 7:10 PM ET – Danny Salazar (11-3, 2.97) vs Jose Berrios (1-1, 10.20)
Tuesday, 8/2, 7:10 PM ET – Carrasco (7-4, 2.45) vs Kyle Gibson (3-6, 4.54)
Wednesday, 8/3, 7:10 PM ET – TBD vs Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.13)
Thursday, 8/4, 12:10 PM ET – TBD vs TBD
@ New York Yankees (Friday thru Sunday)
52-52, 7 GB of Baltimore
So wait a second, the Indians traded prospects to the Yankees for the proven veteran talent. Let’s let that sink in for a minute.
Unfortunately, it also seems that the Yankees have done a masterful job of restocking their farm system just by trading two relief pitchers to the Indians and Cubs. Smart and rich is scary. The Yankees may also have traded Carlos Beltran by the time the Indians head to the Bronx next weekend.
Projected Starting Pitchers
Friday, 8/5, 7:05 PM ET – TBD vs TBD
Saturday, 8/6, 1:05 PM ET – TBD vs TBD
Sunday, 8/7, 1:05 PM ET – TBD vs TBD
Around the AL Central
Detroit Tigers – Standing Pat
As was posted here last weekend, the Tigers still look to stand pat at the trade deadline this season. Today’s Detroit Free Press mentions that they actually had discussions about Lucroy and some back-end starting pitching, but nothing seems likely.
Chicago White Sox – Dealing Pieces
The White Sox have now pulled ahead of the Royals in the standings but trail the Indians by 10.5 in the Central. As the Chicago Tribune notes, the White Sox have traded one veteran reliever for a triple-A outfielder, and more deals may be on the way Monday.
Chicagoans will have to pin their playoff hopes on the North-side Cubs this fall.
Kansas City Royals – Falling Apart
The Royals playoff hopes are fading as quickly as their health as they were swept by the Texas Rangers this weekend and now trail Cleveland by 12 games and are eight back in the Wild Card. Wade Davis has also hit the DL again with the dreaded “forearm strain”. Any hope that they may have cashed Davis in for an Andrew Miller-type haul are now gone.
As the Kansas City Star notes, the Royals matched the franchise low for victories (seven) for the month of July.
Minnesota Twins – #1 Prospect is Back
Rookie Jose Berrios returns to the big league squad this week to make a start against the Indians. In four starts with the Twins this season, Berrios’ ERA is over 10 but the 22-year-old has a 3.14 ERA in 16 AAA starts with a 1.006 WHIP and 9.7 K/9.
Washington Upgrades at Closer
Indians fans were treated to an incredible comeback against the Washington Nationals last week, courtesy of deposed closer Jonathan Papelbon. While the Washington Post did briefly pontificate on a Lucas Giolito for Andrew Miller trade at one point this week, the Nationals have opted for the much more rational option of two relievers for the Pirates’ Mark Melancon, who will be a free agent after this season. Papelbon can Riverdance himself right into the setup role.
Sunday Night Matchup at Wrigley Field
Matusz, like Andrew Miller, is another failed starter-turned-reliever who’s had some success the past few seasons out of the bullpen, posting a 3.32 ERA from 2013-15. Matusz was injured and ineffective in Baltimore this season, however, giving up eight runs and walking seven in six innings and was traded to Atlanta for a competitive balance draft pick and two minor leaguers. The gamble didn’t work out for the Braves, though, and they cut Matusz within two weeks.
At 52-50, the Mariners are four games out of the Wild Card and eight games behind Texas in the AL West. The Cubs, 62-41, have the best winning percentage in all of baseball at .602. The Indians (60-42) have the second-best winning percentage.