Scouting The Free Agent Market: Jon Lester


Even before trading Shane Greene to get Didi Gregorius, the Yankees needed rotation help. Now they really need rotation help. Their top five starters right now are (in whatever order) Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, David Phelps, and probably Bryan Mitchell, at least until Ivan Nova returns from Tommy John surgery at midseason. Tanaka (elbow), Sabathia (knee), Pineda (shoulder), and Phelps (elbow) all landed on the DL this past season and their injury concerns will carry into 2015.

Along with Max Scherzer (Scouting the Market), one of the top two free agent starters available this offseason is ex-Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, a legitimate ace who’s shown he has big market and postseason chops. The Yankees have insisted all winter they will not hand out another massive contract after getting burned by the Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez deals. One Yankees executive even went so far as to tell Joel Sherman that Lester’s “name never even comes up in discussions.”

That said, these are the Yankees, and they could change their mind and offer a market-busting contract at literally any moment. They’ve done it before and it’s a safe assumption they’ll do it again at some point. Lester has obviously been excellent through the first nine seasons of his career, but whichever team signs him won’t be getting those nine years, they’ll be getting the next six or seven or however many years of his career. Those figure to look quite a bit different than 2006-14 Lester. Is 2015-? Lester a fit for the Yankees? Let’s look.

High-End Performance

We’re all familiar with Lester. We’ve been watching him pitch against the Yankees multiple time every year for nearly a decade now. He’s excellent. I know it, you know it, we all know it. This section is just a formality, really. Here’s how Lester has pitched these last three seasons.

2012 205.1 4.82 4.11 19.0% 7.8% 49.2% 13.9% 0.339 0.321
2013 213.1 3.75 3.59 19.6% 7.4% 45.0% 8.3% 0.317 0.294
2014 219.2 2.46 2.80 24.9% 5.4% 42.4% 7.2% 0.275 0.309
TOTAL 638.1 3.65 3.49 21.1% 6.9% 45.6% 9.5% 0.310 0.309

Lester had what as likely a career year in 2014, two years after having the worst year of his career. He was excellent this past season but the 2012-13 seasons weren’t anything special (4.28 ERA and 3.84 FIP).

Lester did rebound from that ugly 2012 season and that’s a positive. A lot of pitchers are unable to rebound after a rough season like that. Realistically, I think you sign Lester hoping you get the 2014 version in 2015 but expecting the overall 2012-14 version. That make sense? If you’re expecting six or seven years of 2014 Lester, you’ll be disappointed. That won’t happen.

Stuff Breakdown

Unlike, say, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, Lester is not a huge stuff guy from the left side. He’s not going to blow anyone away with fastballs or buckle knees with nasty breaking balls. He’s basically a three-pitch pitcher these days (four-seamer, cutter, curveball) who will throw two other pitches (sinker, changeup) a handful of times per start and nothing more. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, here is Lester’s pitch selection over the years:

Jon Lester pitch selection

Between the four-seamer and cutter, Lester throws a fastball roughly 70% of the time nowadays. It works because he mixes the two pitches well and can locate them to both sides of the plate against lefties and righties. Chances are he’ll throw you a fastball for any given pitch, but good luck guessing whether it’ll be a four-seamer or a cutter, and where it’ll be located. It’s the Cliff Lee model — good but not great stuff that plays up because of location and unpredictability.

We’re going to get into Lester’s workload in a second, but he turns 31 next month and has thrown a lot of innings over the years. You knew that already. So, then, it’s no surprise his velocity declined across the board last season:

Jon Lester velocity

It’s not a huge decline but it is a decline. Lester’s four-seamer averaged 94.01 mph in 2013 and 93.15 mph in 2014. The cutter went from 90.66 to 88.88. The curveball went from 76.85 to 75.95. This is totally normal! Pitchers lose velocity as they age and Lester is probably going to lose even more velocity in the coming years. Lester’s release point has gradually dropped about three inches over the years as well …

Jon Lester release point

… and that’s also a normal part of the aging process. That’s the life of a pitcher over 30.

Lester showed he can pitch with the reduced velocity in 2014 and while it’s easy to think he’ll be able to adjust a la Andy Pettitte because he’s a command-based lefty, the fact is we don’t really know how or if he’ll adjust in the future. Whichever teams sign Lester will do so assuming he can adjust and remain effective, otherwise they wouldn’t give him six or seven or however many years.

Okay, so we know what Lester throws, how often he throws it, and how hard he throws it. Now let’s look at how effective these individual pitches are in terms of generating swings and misses and getting ground balls. With the help of Brooks Baseball once again, here are how Lester’s three main pitches rate at getting whiffs and grounders:

FB Whiff% FB GB% CT Whiff% CT GB% CB Whiff% CB GB%
2012 6.2% 36.6% 13.0% 47.3% 10.9% 48.2%
2013 6.7% 35.3% 11.2% 50.0% 9.4% 43.3%
2014 6.9% 29.3% 12.4% 48.1% 18.7% 52.6%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 9.7% 43.9% 11.1% 48.7%

Generally speaking, Lester’s four-seamer has been average at getting swings and misses and below-average at getting grounders while the cutter and curve have been above-average at getting both whiffs and grounders. The four-seam fastball is the worst of Lester’s three main offerings. The cutter and curveball are his moneymakers.

The Yankees have become a very cutter-happy organization in recent years. Phil Hughes added a cutter. David Robertson added a cutter. David Phelps and Adam Warren added cutters after being drafted. Sabathia’s been working to add a cutter. Manny Banuelos and Ian Clarkin both added cutters in the minors. Many teams shy away from the cut fastball — most famously, the Orioles took the cutter away from top prospect Dylan Bundy even though it’s his best pitch — but the Yankees embrace it, perhaps due to Mariano Rivera‘s success. Lester fits right in with the organizational philosophy.

Early-Career Workload

During his regular season career, Lester has thrown 1,596 innings through his age 30 season, the 35th most over the last 25 years. Pitch count data only goes back to the 2000 season, and since then, Lester’s 26,321 pitches through age 30 are the 16th most in baseball. Here’s the top 25 in regular season pitches before age 31 since that 2000 season via Baseball Reference:

Rank Player Pitches
1 CC Sabathia 37,026
2 Jon Garland 32,416
3 Felix Hernandez 31,478
4 Mark Buehrle 31,170
5 Carlos Zambrano 30,403
6 Barry Zito 30,198
7 Zack Greinke 29,955
8 Justin Verlander 29,116
9 Matt Cain 29,033
10 Cole Hamels 27,888
11 Javier Vazquez 27,506
12 Ervin Santana 26,846
13 Dan Haren 26,726
14 Edwin Jackson 26,509
15 Johan Santana 26,327
16 Jon Lester 26,321
17 Tim Lincecum 25,793
18 Brett Myers 25,763
19 Jake Peavy 25,662
20 Jeff Weaver 24,649
21 Roy Oswalt 24,250
22 Josh Beckett 24,234
23 Kyle Lohse 24,001
24 Scott Kazmir 23,889
25 John Lackey 23,828

It’s a shame we can’t go back any further, so this will have to do.

Now, obviously all pitches are not created equal. I’m guessing a higher percentage of Lester’s 26,321 pitches before age 30 were “stressful” than Zack Greinke’s 29,955. Lester was pitching in pressure packing AL East games the moment he got to the big leagues. Greinke didn’t play on a contender until he got to the Brewers in his age 27 season. Throwing a lot of pitches is generally bad. Throwing a lot of stressful pitches is worse. Lester’s thrown an awful lot of them in his career, I reckon.

By the way, of those 25 pitchers in the table above, I count only five (Garland, Johan, Myers, Beckett, Lackey) who had a substantial arm injury after their age 30 season. (Sabathia had knee trouble.) I wouldn’t think much of that though, there’s a lot of recency bias here. Most of those guys simply haven’t the chance to pitch at all much after the age of 30 yet, like Lester. Heck, Felix is still only 28.

Injury History

As you know, Lester overcame a treatable form of anaplastic large cell lymphoma earlier in his career. He was diagnosed in August 2006, underwent chemotherapy, and was declared cancer-free in November 2006. That’s obviously very serious and has to be noted. Lester’s been a horse since then and has done all sorts of wonderful charity stuff to benefit cancer research these last few years.

As for actual baseball injuries, Lester has been on the DL just once, for a lat strain in July 2011. He missed 19 days and hasn’t had any trouble since. Lester missed a start with a hamstring strain in 2012 and missed another start with a hip strain in 2013. That’s his injury history right there. No arm problems whatsoever and no other significant injuries. The best predictor of future injuries is past injuries and Lester’s been very healthy since become a full-time big leaguer in 2007.

Contract Estimates

Because he was traded at midseason, the Athletics could not make Lester the qualifying offer and therefore he will not cost a draft pick to sign, unlike Scherzer. Giving up a draft pick is a minor consideration when you’re talking about elite players, but signing Lester and being able to keep your first rounder is pretty cool. Here are some contract estimates:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Six years, $132M. ($22M AAV)
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Six years, $138M. ($23M AAV)
  • MLB Trade Rumors: “Lester should command at least the six years and $147MM Greinke received two years ago, and potentially more.” ($24.5M AAV)

According to Jon Heyman, Lester already has several offers in the $130M to $140M range, though the Red Sox are in a bit lower than that. The Cubs, Dodgers, and Braves are also said to be involved to some extent. I’m sure other clubs are in the mix as well. One executive told Ken Rosenthal that Lester is going to wind up with seven years — “Book it,” said the exec — and that makes sense to me. If Lester’s sitting on a bunch of six-year offers, it’s probably only a matter of time before a team gets desperate and offers that seventh guaranteed year, which will be the separator.

It’s worth noting that when Sabathia signed his initial seven-year, $161M deal with the Yankees, he was only 28. Greinke was 28 when he signed with the Dodgers and Hamels was 28 when he signed his six-year, $144M extension with the Phillies. Lester turns 31 in a few weeks and we’re talking about a difference of three peak years and that’s significant. Cliff Lee had just turned 32 when he signed his five-year, $120M deal with the Phillies. That might be a more appropriate contract comparison for Lester than Greinke and Hamels.

Of course, the market is going to determine Lester’s contract, not what similar-aged pitchers received the last few years. There’s so much money in the game these days and so few elite players to spend it on. Lester is well-positioned to get at least six years and I do think it’ll end up getting seven years when it’s all said and done — maybe a six-year deal with a seventh year vesting option? — probably with an average annual value north of $24M. That’s the market. Even with offense hard to find, aces come at a premium.

Wrapping Up

So, long story short, Lester is very good and healthy. He’s a big guy — listed 6-foot-4 and 240 lbs. — with two solidly above-average pitches in his cutter and curveball even though his overall velocity is starting to disappear. There’s an awful lot to like here. It goes without saying Lester would be an immense help to the 2015 Yankees, but, at the same time, I have a tough time overlooking all the aces — Sabathia, Cain, Verlander, Lincecum, etc. — who’ve suddenly fallen apart with little to no warning recently.

If the Yankees do decide to reverse course and spend big on a free agent, few targets make as much sense as Lester. I don’t just mean this offseason either, few free agent starters offer this kind of pedigree. There has not yet been any indication the Yankees are going to get seriously involved in the Lester market, but, as I said earlier, that could change in a heartbeat. Personally, I think they should focus on smaller additions to upgrade as many roster spots as possible, but adding someone of Lester’s caliber is never bad move.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 8th, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

I was planning to post a Didi Gregorius highlight video for the open thread this weekend, but apparently no such thing exists. No one made one for 2013 or 2014. That’s a shame. So, instead, I picked one defensive play and will roll with that. Here are some more Gregorius videos and here are the weekend links.

  • Jorge Arangure wrote about the unusual defection story of wunderkind Yoan Moncada. As always, most of how he left Cuba is a mystery, but Moncada is represented by an everyday accountant in Tampa and may have impregnated another agent in California. Yeah.
  • Chad Finn recently wrote about the role Twitter plays in breaking baseball news these days. He actually wrote that before some recent silliness involving kids — like 13 and 14-year-olds — pretending to have sources and breaking news on Twitter. Good timing.
  • David Laurila interviewed Reid Nichols, the Brewers director of player development. I always enjoy Laurila’s Q&As with player development executives. Nichols discusses the team’s development strategies — including the use of the shift in the minors — among other things.
  • Jon Roegele did some great work analyzing pitch sequencing, meaning how one pitch affects the one after it. The slider after a fastball, etc. I think — and have thought since watching Barry Zito throw 84 mph fastballs over the plate for swings and misses during the 2012 postseason — that pitching sequencing is the next big baseball analytics breakthrough. Kinda like pitch-framing a few years ago.

Friday: This is your open thread for the night. The Knicks and Nets are both playing, plus there’s college football and basketball on as well. Talk about those games, the Gregorius trade, the Andrew Miller signing, or anything else right here.

Saturday: Use this as your open thread again. The Rangers and Devils are both playing and there’s the usual slate of college football and basketball. Have at it, folks.

Sunday: For the last time, this is the nightly open thread. The late NFL game is the Patriots and Chargers. The Knicks are playing and there’s some college basketball going on a well. Talk about anything and everything here.

DotF: Jose Pirela’s winter ball dominance continues

Before an update on everyone in winter ball, here are some minor league notes:

  • Long-time Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin will not return to the team next year, report Dan Pfeiffer and Matt Kardos. Word is he will be reassigned to another position within the organization. I wonder if he’s moving up to Triple-A Scranton to replace Luis Sojo as third base coach. Franklin had been Trenton’s manager since 2007.
  • The Yankees have signed catcher Juan Graterol to a minor league contract, reports Pete Caldera. Graterol, 25, spend most of last season in Double-A with the Royals and hit .280/.313/.398 (103 wRC+) with four homers in 70 games. He’s an organizational catcher. The Yankees could lose the out-of-options Austin Romine at some point before Opening Day and Graterol adds depth.
  • Some updates on ex-Yankees farmhands: IF Corban Joseph has signed with the Braves and LHP Nik Turley signed with the Giants, both on minor league deals. The Braves have now signed CoJo, Zoilo Almonte, and Francisco Rondon. I’m guessing Gordon Blakeley, who left New York’s front office for Atlanta’s, recommended them.

Arizona Fall League (season is over, so these stats are final)

  • OF Tyler Austin: .304/.392/.449 (135 wRC+) with two doubles, two homers, ten walks, and 19 strikeouts in 19 games.
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: .260/.317/.274 (67 wRC+) with one double, seven walks, and 18 strikeouts in 20 games.
  • 1B Greg Bird: .313/.391/.556 (156 wRC+) with six doubles, six homers, 13 walks, and 23 strikeouts in 26 games.
  • C Kyle Higashioka: .409/.480/.682 (216 wRC+) with three doubles, one homer, three walks, and two strikeouts in six games. He actually led the league in hitting if you set the plate appearance minimum to zero.
  • OF Aaron Judge: .278/.377/.467 (133 wRC+) with five doubles, four homers, 13 walks, and 22 strikeouts in 24 games.
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 10 G, 13.1 IP, 18 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 1 WP (6.08 ERA, 4.25 FIP)
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 10 H, 11.2 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 8 BB, 9 K, 1 WP (2.31 ERA, 4.24 FIP)
  • RHP Alex Smith: 10 H, 10.1 IP, 25 H, 15 R, 12 ER, 8 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 2 HB (10.45 ERA, 7.79 FIP)

Australian Baseball League (season doesn’t end until late-January)

  • OF Adam Silva: 11 G, 8-43, 6 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 14 K, 1 SB (.186/.271/.302)

Dominican Winter League (season ends two weeks from today)

  • OF Eury Perez: 24 G, 18-86, 9 R, 3 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 17 K, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.209/.218/.279)
  • IF Jose Rosario: 2 G, 0-1, 1 R, 1 SB
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 4 G, 3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 1 WP (0.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP)
  • LHP Jose DePaula: 2 G, 2 GS, 10 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K (0.90 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) — hasn’t started since he signed a one-year MLB contract with New York

Mexican Pacific League (season ends three weeks from tomorrow)

  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 16 G, 16 IP, 16 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 12 K, 2 HR, 1 HB (1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 9 G, 9 GS, 37.2 IP, 29 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 18 BB, 27 K, 2 HR, 2 HB (2.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (season ends three weeks from today)

  • SS Vince Conde: 1 G, 0-1

Venezuelan Winter League (season ends three weeks from Tuesday)

  • C Francisco Arcia: 20 G, 14-73, 3 R, 3 2B, 8 RBI, 4 BB, 16 K, 1 HBP (.192/.244/.233)
  • UTIL Ali Castillo: 43 G, 56-170, 33 R, 7 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 7 BB, 25 K, 14 SB, 5 CS, 2 HBP (.329/.359/.412)
  • OF Ramon Flores: 42 G, 47-148, 23 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 19 BB, 27 K, 2 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.318/.396/.439) — great winter after missing much of the season with an ankle problem
  • OF Adonis Garcia: 43 G, 51-179, 17 R, 8 2B, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 11 BB, 21 K, 3 SB, 2 CS, 4 HBP (.285/.338/.380)
  • OF Ericson Leonora: 5 G, 3-11, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 5 K, .273/.273/.545)
  • UTIL Jose Pirela: 32 G, 39-121, 24 R, 10 2B, 4 3B, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 12 BB, 17 K, 1 CS, 2 HBP (.322/.393/.620) — even if the Yankees sign another infielder, Pirela’s versatility puts him in position for a bench job
  • C Jackson Valera: 3 G, 0-0
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 1 G, 0 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 HR (? ERA, ? WHIP)
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 20 G, 18.1 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 HB (2.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

Thoughts following the Miller signing and Gregorius trade

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

The Yankees finally — and I say “finally” while fully acknowledging it is only December 6th — made some moves yesterday to bring in help for the infield and pitching staff. First they acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that sent Shane Greene to the Tigers, then they signed lefty relief ace Andrew Miller to a four-year contract worth $36M. The team still has a lot of work to do to improve the roster but yesterday was a nice first step. Here are some thoughts.

1. I don’t have much to say about the Miller signing so I might as well start there. I thought he was going to end up getting $44M or so across four years, so getting him for $36M is pretty neat. He’s awesome, four-year contracts for relievers are really risky, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. Don’t really have much more to add to that. Nothing you haven’t heard already, anyway. I am curious to see how the bullpen roles shake out though, especially if David Robertson doesn’t return. It would be awesome if Joe Girardi uses Miller and Dellin Betances as sort of a tandem setup men/closers situation, using them based on matchups in the eighth and ninth (the Braves did something like this with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez a few years ago), but I think the Yankees are last team in MLB that would try that. Girardi likes using guys in set roles and you know what? Players like having set roles too. If Robertson doesn’t come back, I think I’d rather see the Yankees sign a cheap capital-C closer like Jason Grilli or even Soriano so Miller and Betances can raise hell in the seventh and eighth than see them use Miller or Betances to close.

2. If Robertson does leave — I think that’s likely at this point — the only players left from the 2009 World Series team will be CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Alex Rodriguez. That’s it. Gardner and A-Rod will be the only players left on the team who played in the old Yankee Stadium too. The times, man. They are a changin’.

3. As for Gregorius, I am pretty tired of the defense-first profile, but it was unavoidable at shortstop. There was very little chance the Yankees were going to acquire a shortstop who significantly improved the team’s offense this offseason. It just wasn’t going to happen, the players weren’t available for it to happen. Gregorius can catch the ball and he might learn to hit down the road, which makes him like most other 24-year-old shortstops. The guys who can field and already know how to hit at that age cost way more than Greene to acquire. I’m just glad they were able to plug the shortstop hole with a young player. They really needed that. The Yankees need to start adding more young building blocks to the roster and Gregorius might be one of those guys. Stephen Drew on a one-year contract would have been fine as a stopgap, but this is much more preferable. New York has to stick with Gregorius all year next year, ride out the slumps, not platoon him with Brendan Ryan, and see what happens. Gregorius is more of a long-term asset than someone who will have an immediate impact.

4. The rotation now without Greene is very thin. Three of the team’s top five in innings pitched as a starter from this past season (Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Greene) are no longer on the roster and the two that remain (Masahiro Tanaka, David Phelps) will head into next year with injury concerns. As of right now, the rotation is Tanaka, Phelps, Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and I guess Bryan Mitchell in whatever order. The Yankees don’t need a starter, they need starters. Plural. One Jon Lester or Max Scherzer won’t solve their problems. They’ll help, but one of those guys alone isn’t enough. I think they need at least two starters — I like Phelps much more in the swingman/sixth starter’s spot — and I’d prefer three because the odds are pretty high someone won’t make it through Spring Training in one piece, either Tanaka (elbow) or Sabathia (knee) or whoever. The Yankees do have Ivan Nova due to return from Tommy John surgery around midseason — no earlier than May based on when he actually had surgery — but counting on him to come back and boost the rotation in the second half probably isn’t a great idea. Getting another bat is very important. Getting more help for the rotation is somehow now even more important.

5. The good news: there is still plenty of pitching left on the free agent market. The only starter to sign so far is A.J. Burnett, who was either going to go back to the Pirates or retire, so he doesn’t really count. The Yankees continue to insist they won’t be in on Lester or Scherzer, at least depending on which reporter you want to believe, but there are plenty of second and third tier options they could explore. Brandon McCarthy is the most notable, and others like Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano (qualified), Justin Masterson, and Ervin Santana (qualified) all make some sense for the New York depending on the price. The Padres, Reds, Athletics, and Mets are among the clubs said to be open to trading pitching this winter. The arms are out there. The Yankees just have to find the best ones for them, and I’m pretty confident they’ll do that given the way they cobbled together the rotation around all those injuries this summer. I’m not saying it’ll easy. Just that digging up adequate pitching is doable right now given the market.

Yankees sign Andrew Miller to four-year, $36M deal

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees had two elite relievers in their bullpen the last four years and they’ll continue to have at least two elite relievers next year. New York has signed left-hander Andrew Miller to a four-year contract, the team announced. Jack Curry reports the deal is worth $36M total and Buster Olney says there are no no-trade or opt-out clauses. Bob Nightengale says Miller turned down a larger offer to come to New York.

Signing Miller does make it seem less likely David Robertson will return, but, for what it’s worth, earlier today Brian Cashman told Dan Barbarisi the club has not ruled out signing both Miller and Robertson this winter. Either way, the Yankees will go into next season with Miller and Dellin Betances anchoring the late innings. Joe Girardi does like putting relievers in set roles, but we’re a long way from worrying about who closes and who sets up.

The four-year, $36M deal is largest ever given to a non-closer reliever in baseball history. The previous record was Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants a few years ago. The Yankees did give Rafael Soriano a three-year, $35M contract a few years ago to go from Rays closer to Mariano Rivera‘s setup man. This is the first four-year deal for a non-closing reliever since the White Sox gave Scott Linebrink four years during the 2007-08 offseason. I honestly through Miller was going to end up with $10M to $11M annually.

Miller, 29, had a 2.02 ERA (1.51 FIP) in 62.1 innings last season with stellar strikeout (14.87 K/9 and 42.6 K%) and walk (2.45 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) rates. He also gets plenty of grounders (46.9%) and held lefties to a .161/.206/.261 (.211 wOBA) batting line with 49.0% strikeout rate. Miller is no lefty specialist though — he held righties to a .142/.245/.202 (.208 wOBA) line with a 38.2% strikeout rate in 2014. Girardi can use him for full innings. Chances are this past season was a career year for Miller, but, as explained in our Scouting The Market post, he was very good from 2012-13.

The Tigers drafted Miller with the sixth overall pick back in 2006 — Miller was Adam Warren‘s teammate at UNC — then traded him to the Marlins as part of the package for Miguel Cabrera. It didn’t work out in Florida and eventually he landed in Boston. It wasn’t until Bobby Valentine got Miller to smooth out his mechanics, ditch his windup, and pitch exclusively from the stretch that he became the reliever he is today. That’s pretty much the only good thing Valentine did for the Red Sox.

The Yankees addressed two of their biggest needs — late-inning reliever and shortstop — on Friday by signing Miller and trading for Didi Gregorius. They still need quite a bit of rotation help — more than before because they used Shane Greene to get Gregorius — and another infielder or reliever wouldn’t hurt. There’s still a long way to go before they’re postseason caliber and there’s plenty of offseason remaining, but the Yankees are better right now than they were 24 hours ago.

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