Recent reliever trades show the Yankees hit the jackpot with the Chapman and Miller deals

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In the early days of Spring Training, we’ve gotten a nice little peek at some of the best young players the Yankees have in their much ballyhooed farm system. Aaron Judge socked what will probably go down as the longest home run of the spring, Gleyber Torres doubled to left and right fields the next day, and Clint Frazier has been wearing out the opposite field with extra-base hits. It’s been fun!

Judge was one of New York’s three first round picks back in 2013, and, as you know, Torres and Frazier both came over at last year’s trade deadline. So did outfielder Billy McKinney, who hit a home run Sunday, as well as Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. We didn’t get to see Justus Sheffield make his spring debut Tuesday because the game wasn’t televised, but he was another trade deadline pickup as well.

Last summer the Yankees were uniquely positioned heading into the trade deadline and Brian Cashman & Co. took advantage in a big way. They turned Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, two relievers (great relievers, but relievers nonetheless), into three top 100 prospects, plus several others. The reliever trade market had really taken off in previous months and both the Cubs and Indians were pretty desperate despite sitting in first place. They had baseball’s two longest World Series droughts and wanted to get over the hump. Sure enough, the trades helped both get to the World Series.

Whenever we see trades, especially blockbuster trades that go beyond anything we expected, our first inclination is to think the market has changed. The Yankees got massive hauls for Chapman and Miller, which means every great reliever is going to require a massive Torres/Frazier caliber package going forward. It hasn’t worked out that way. Two other great relievers have been traded since those deals:

  • Pirates trade Mark Melancon to the Nationals for reliever Felipe Rivera and minor leaguer Taylor Hearn, whom Baseball America ranked as the 14th best prospect in Pittsburgh’s system in their 2017 Prospect Handbook.
  • Royals trade Wade Davis to the Cubs for Jorge Soler, a 25-year-old former top prospect who is still trying to find his way at the big league level. He came with four years of team control.

The Melancon trade was made one week after the Chapman trade and one day after the Miller trade. The Davis trade went down over the winter. Melancon was a rental like Chapman, and while he’s not as good as Chapman, he’s not that much worse either. And yet, the Pirates turned him into a good reliever and an okay prospect. The Yankees turned rental Chapman into arguably the best prospect in baseball in Torres, plus three others.

The Davis trade really drives home how well the Yankees did with the Miller and Chapman trades. From 2014-15, Davis was the best reliever on the planet, throwing 139.1 innings with a 0.97 ERA (1.72 FIP). He also excelled in the postseason (one earned run in 25 innings), closed out a World Series, and has an affordable contract ($10M in 2017). Somehow the Yankees got more for rental Chapman than the Royals did for a full year of Davis.

We can go back even further to show how much the Chapman and Miller trade look like outliers. Last offseason the Padres acquired four prospects for Craig Kimbrel, including two who landed on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list soon after the trade: Javier Guerra (No. 52) and Manuel Margot (No. 56). Kimbrel had three seasons left on his contract at the time of the trade. Well, two seasons and a club option. There’s an escape there in case things go wrong.

When the Yankees traded Miller, he had two and a half years remaining on his contract. They traded him for four prospects, including two who appeared on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 list a few weeks earlier: Frazier (No. 21) and Sheffield (No. 69). Would you rather have the Nos. 21 and 69 prospects, or the No. 52 and 56 prospects? I’d take Nos. 21 and 69. Prospect rankings are not linear. There’s not a significant difference between Nos. 52, 56, and 69. The difference between Nos. 21 and 52 is pretty huge though.

(For what it’s worth, the prospect valuations at Point of Pittsburgh indicate Frazier and Sheffield were worth a combined $78.5M in surplus value at the time of the trade. Guerra and Margot combined for $44.8M. Top 20-ish position player prospects like Frazier are insanely valuable.)

The Phillies didn’t got a single top 100 prospect in the Ken Giles trade, and he came with five years of team control. They just got a bunch of players with performance and/or health issues. Two years of Jake McGee was traded for a designated hitter (Corey Dickerson) who hasn’t hit outside Coors Field. Three years of Justin Wilson fetched two okay but not great pitching prospects. Four and a half years of Sam Dyson was given away for two non-prospects. Giles, McGee, Wilson, and Dyson have all been among the game’s top relievers the last few seasons, and look at those trades packages.

Point is, compared to some other top reliever trades, specifically the Melancon and Davis deals, the Chapman and Miller hauls look like a minor miracle. It was a perfect storm for the Yankees. They had an elite reliever on a contract that wasn’t burdensome, and the team that wanted him was not only very desperate to get over the hump and win their first World Series in a lifetime, they also had the tippy top prospects to trade. And then it all happened again.

I don’t want to call the Miller and Chapman trades once in a lifetime events, that’s a wee bit over the top, but given everything that happened leading up to and since the deals, it sure looks like everything came together at exactly the right time for the Yankees. They had the right players to offer very motivated buyers. And maybe it won’t work out and all the prospects will bust. Baseball can be a jerk like that. Right now, at this very moment, the Miller and Chapman deals look like franchise-altering trades. You dream of your favorite team making trades like this.

The best seasons at each position by a Yankee during the RAB era

2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)
2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)

RAB celebrated its tenth birthday Monday. Tenth! I can’t believe it. Ben, Joe, and I started this site as a hobby and it grew into something far greater than we ever expected. The site has been around for a World Series championship, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting to 3,000 hits, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves king … we’ve seen lots of cool stuff these last ten years. Thank you to everyone who has been reading, no matter how long you’ve been with us.

For the sake of doing something a little out of the ordinary, let’s look back at the best individual seasons at each position by Yankees players during the RAB era. Who had the best season by a catcher? By a right fielder? That sorta stuff. We launched on February 20th, 2007, so this covers the 2007-16 seasons. Come with me, won’t you?

Catcher: 2007 Jorge Posada

Very easy call behind the plate. Posada had the best offensive season of his career in 2007, hitting .338/.426/.543 (157 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 589 plate appearances. He caught 138 games that year — it was Jorge’s eighth straight season with 120+ starts behind the plate — and went to his fifth and final All-Star Game. Posada also finished sixth in the MVP voting. By bWAR (+5.4) and fWAR (+5.6), it was the third best season of his career behind 2003 (+5.9 and +6.0) and 2000 (+5.5 and +6.1). Honorable mention goes out to 2015 Brian McCann and 2016 Gary Sanchez. (Sanchez’s +3.0 bWAR last year is second best by a Yankee catcher during the RAB era.)

First Base: 2009 Mark Teixeira

Another easy call. Teixeira’s first season in pinstripes featured a .292/.383/.565 (142 wRC+) batting line and AL leading home run (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) totals. He went to his second All-Star Game and won his third Gold Glove at first base as well. Teixeira was the MVP runner-up to Joe Mauer, though Teixeira and the Yankees swept Mauer and the Twins in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. Got the last laugh that year. Both bWAR (+5.0) and fWAR (+5.1) say Teixeira’s 2009 season was far and away the best by a Yankees first baseman since RAB became a thing. Honorable mention goes to a bunch of other Teixeira seasons.

Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano

The only question at second base was which Cano season to pick. His run from 2009-13 was truly the best five-year stretch by a second baseman in franchise history. Cano hit .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers in 2012 while playing 161 of 162 regular season games. He set new career highs in homers, slugging percentage, total bases (345), bWAR (+8.7), and fWAR (+7.6) while tying his previous career high in doubles (48). Robbie was a monster. He went to his third straight All-Star Game and won his third straight Gold Glove, and also finished fourth in the MVP voting. The club’s best season by a non-Cano second baseman during the RAB era belongs to Starlin Castro. Quite the drop-off there, eh?

Shortstop: 2009 Derek Jeter

The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)
The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)

As great as Teixeira was in 2009, he wasn’t even the best player on his own infield that year. The Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order that season and the Cap’n responded by hitting .334/.406/.465 (130 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 30 steals in 35 attempts as the leadoff man. It was also the first (and only) time in Jeter’s career the fielding stats rated him as above-average. I remember thinking Derek looked noticeably more mobile in the field. That was the year after Brian Cashman reportedly told Jeter the team would like him to work on his defense after finding out Joe Torre never relayed the message years ago. The 2009 season was the second best of Jeter’s career by fWAR (+6.6) and third best by bWAR (+6.5) behind his monster 1998-99 seasons. The Cap’n was an All-Star that year and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Mauer and Teixeira.

Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The single greatest season by a Yankee not just during the RAB era, but since Mickey Mantle was in his prime. I went to about 25 games that season and I swear I must’ve seen A-Rod hit 25 home runs. He went deep every night it seemed. Rodriguez hit .314/.422/.645 (175 wRC+) that summer and led baseball in runs (143), home runs (54), RBI (156), SLG (.645), OPS+ (176), bWAR (+9.4), and fWAR (+9.6). All that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game (duh) and his third MVP award (second with the Yankees). A-Rod received 26 of the 28 first place MVP votes that year. The two Detroit voters voted for Magglio Ordonez. For reals. What an incredible season this was. I’ve never seen a player locked in like that for 162 games. Alex was on a completely different level than everyone else in 2007.

Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner

With all due respect to Damon, who was outstanding for the 2009 World Series team, 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon. Gardner hit .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) with five home runs and 47 steals that season to go along with his excellent defense. Damon, meanwhile, hit a healthy .282/.365/.489 (122 wRC+) with a career high tying 24 home runs and 12 steals in 2009. His defense was so very shaky though. Remember how he used to take those choppy steps that made it seem like he had no idea where the ball was? Both bWAR (+7.3 to +4.2) and fWAR (+6.1 to +3.6) say 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon, but forget about WAR. Gardner got on base much more often and was the better baserunner. I think that combined with the glove more than makes up for Damon’s edge in power. Honorable mention goes to Matsui’s .285/.367/.488 (124 wRC+) effort with 25 home runs in 2007.

Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson

Remember how much Granderson struggled the first four and a half months of the 2010 season? He was hitting .240/.307/.417 (91 wRC+) with ten homers in 335 plate appearances prior to his career-altering pow wow with hitting coach Kevin Long that August. Granderson made some mechanical changes and hit .259/.354/.560 (144 wRC+) with 14 homers in 193 plate appearances the rest of the way. He went from a passable outfielder to one of the game’s top power hitters seemingly overnight. That success carried over into 2011, during which Granderson hit .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 home runs. He led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), went to the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. My man.

Right Field: 2010 Nick Swisher

We’re picking between Swisher seasons here, and I’m going with 2010 over 2012. Swisher managed a .288/.359/.511 (134 wRC+) line with 29 home runs in 2010, making it the best offensive season of his career. Add in right field defense that was better than Swisher got credit for, and you’ve got a +3.7 bWAR and +4.3 fWAR player. Right field lacks that big eye-popping season like the other positions during the RAB era. Swisher was reliably above-average but not a star.

Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui

Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)
Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)

I came into this exercise with a pretty good idea who I’d have at each position, and I assumed 2009 Matsui would be the easy call at DH. Then when I got down to it and looked at the stats, I realized 2015 A-Rod was pretty much right there with him. Check it out:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH RBI bWAR fWAR
2009 Matsui 528 .274/.367/.509 127 28 50 90 +2.7 +2.4
2015 A-Rod 620 .250/.356/.486 130 33 56 86 +3.1 +2.7

That’s really close! Matsui hit for a higher average and got on-base more, though A-Rod had more power. A lefty hitting 28 homers in Yankee Stadium isn’t as impressive as a righty hitting 33, even when considering the 92 extra plate appearances. Since they’re so close, I’m fine with using the postseason as a tiebreaker. Matsui was excellent in October while A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros. Tie goes to the World Series MVP.

Now that we have our nine position players, I’m going to build a lineup, because why not? Lineups are fun. Here’s how I’d set the batting order:

  1. 2009 Derek Jeter
  2. 2012 Robinson Cano
  3. 2007 Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2009 Mark Teixeira
  5. 2007 Jorge Posada
  6. 2011 Curtis Granderson
  7. 2009 Hideki Matsui
  8. 2010 Nick Swisher
  9. 2010 Brett Gardner

Look good? It does to me. Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool tells me that lineup would average 6.87 runs per game, or 1,113 runs per 162 games. The modern record for runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. (Several teams from the 1800s scored more.) The 1999 Indians were the last team to score 1,000 runs. They scored 1,009.

Starting Pitchers

Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mike Mussina 200.1 3.37 131 3.32 +5.2 +4.6
2009 CC Sabathia 230 3.37 137 3.39 +6.2 +5.9
2011 CC Sabathia 237.1 3.00 143 2.88 +7.5 +6.4
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 219.2 3.32 127 3.86 +5.5 +3.8
2016 Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 142 3.51 +5.4 +4.6

Chien-Ming Wang‘s 2007 season as well as a few more Sabathia seasons (2010 and 2012, specifically) were among the final cuts. Late career Andy Pettitte was steady and reliable, but he didn’t have any truly great seasons from 2007-13.

Sabathia is the gold standard for Yankees starting pitchers during the RAB era. From 2009-12, he was the club’s best pitcher since guys like Pettitte, Mussina, David Cone, and Roger Clemens around the turn of the century. Mussina had that marvelous farewell season and Tanaka was awesome last year. Kuroda? He was the man. One-year contracts don’t get any better than what he did for the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t had an all-time great pitcher during the RAB era, a Clayton Kershaw or a Felix Hernandez, someone like that, but they had four years of a bonafide ace in Sabathia plus several other very good seasons. Everyone in the table except Kuroda received Cy Young votes those years. Sabathia finished fourth in the voting in both 2009 and 2011.

Relief Pitchers

IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 1.40 316 2.03 +4.3 +3.2
2009 Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 262 2.89 +3.5 +2.0
2011 David Robertson 66.2 1.08 399 1.84 +4.0 +2.6
2014 Dellin Betances 90 1.40 274 1.64 +3.7 +3.2
2015 Dellin Betances 84 1.50 271 2.48 +3.7 +2.4
2015 Andrew Miller 61.2 2.04 200 2.16 +2.2 +2.0
2016 Dellin Betances 73 3.08 141 1.78 +1.1 +2.9

So many great relief seasons to choose from. I had to leave out several Rivera seasons (2007, 2010, 2011, 2013), several Robertson seasons (2012-14), a Miller season (2016), a Rafael Soriano season (2012), and even a Phil Hughes season (2009). Remember how great Hughes was in relief in 2009? Hughes and Rivera were automatic that year. The Yankees have been blessed with some truly excellent relievers these past ten years. The great Mariano Rivera retired and somehow they have replaced him seamlessly. We’ve seen some amazing performances since launching RAB.

The Lessons of the Trade Deadline [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2016 trade deadline was, truly, a monumental event for the Yankees. The team’s mediocre on-field performance pushed ownership to give Brian Cashman the authority to sell at the deadline, something the club hasn’t done in nearly three decades. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call this year’s trade deadline a franchise-altering event.

Will the deadline alter the franchise for the better? That’s what we’re all hoping. The Yankees made five trades in the week leading up to the deadline, four of which qualify as “seller” trades, and those trades netted them two big leaguers and 12 total prospects. After the deadline Jim Callis said the Yankees have “the deepest system in the game.” The five trades told us five different things about the Yankees.

The Chapman Trade: The Yankees Are Opportunists

The first of the five trades was the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs. It happened a full week prior to the deadline. I wanted the Yankees to trade Chapman even if they were in the race. I wrote that for I don’t know how many months before the trade actually happened. The club bought low in the offseason and had a chance to sell outrageously high at the deadline.

The Yankees did exactly that. They were 50-48 on the morning of the day of the Chapman trade, and they’d just won six of their last eight games. Rather than hang on to Chapman and try to get back into the race, they were smart about their situation. Contenders around the league were lining up for Aroldis and the offers were impressive. Far better than the draft pick the Yankees would have received after the season.

The Chapman trade told us the Yankees are going to be opportunistic. They acquired him at a deep discount (for terrible off-the-field reasons) and flipped him for a massive return. Getting Gleyber Torres alone would have been a major win. The other three players are gravy. I think it’s pretty gross the Yankees used the domestic violence incident to buy low on Chapman, but the team showed when an opportunity that is too good to be true presents itself, they’re going to pounce.

The Miller Trade: Committed To The Rebuild

Okay, fine, it’s a transition, not a rebuild. Whatever. The Yankees were in a very unique position at the trade deadline because they had not one, but two top notch relievers to peddle to contenders. Chapman was the first to go. Following that deal, the Yankees took offers for Andrew Miller, as they did last offseason. And of course everyone wanted him. Pretty much every contender was in on Miller.

Unlike Chapman, the Yankees didn’t have to trade Miller. I mean, they didn’t have to trade Chapman either, but it was such an obvious move. He was an impending free agent and his value was through the roof. Miller had two more affordable years left on his contract — plus he is insanely good and very popular — and keeping him would have completely justifiable. Teams wish they could have 25 guys like Andrew Miller on their roster.

Rather than keep Miller for those reasons, the Yankees acknowledged the bullpen market had exploded, and they capitalized on the opportunity. They’re so committed to the rebuild transition that they traded exactly the kind of player they want to acquire: affordable, effective, and likeable. The timetables didn’t line up though. A top notch reliever is not what they need right now. They need Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield more.

The Clippard Trade: A Complete Tear Down Isn’t Happening

The Yankees won’t say it, but they’re rebuilding. They’re just not rebuilding all the way. A complete Astros style tear down isn’t going to happen because a) it can’t due to some unmovable contracts, and b) ownership doesn’t want it to happen. Hal Steinbrenner has made that very clear. They want to remain in quasi-contention to keep fans interested (i.e. sell tickets, etc.).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Tyler Clippard trade, which went down a few hours after the Miller trade, is the perfect example. Rather than turning Miller’s vacated roster spot over to a young reliever, the Yankees brought in a productive veteran to help them win. The cost was minimal — the Yankees gave up Vicente Campos, who got hurt (again) a few weeks after the trade — and the message was clear. The Yankees are still trying to win, which is commendable. There’s something to be said for refusing to be an abject embarrassment on the field.

Now, does it makes sense to try to remain competitive even though the team on the field is telling you the postseason isn’t going to happen? That’s up for debate. I’m sure some fans appreciate the wins while others would rather a slightly better draft pick and larger bonus pool. That’s not for us to decide though. The Yankees have made their position clear. They’re going to try to win while rebuilding. The Clippard trade is the latest example.

The Beltran Trade: The Yankees Aren’t Afraid To Take Risks

The Yankees made five trades prior to the deadline this year but only two actually came on deadline day. The first sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers for three Single-A pitching prospects in a deal that was more or less inevitable. Once Chapman and Miller were traded, there was no real point in hanging on to Beltran, another impending free agent. Yeah, he was the team’s best hitter, but that also increased his trade value.

As part of the Beltran trade, the Yankees acquired right-hander Dillon Tate, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft. Just last year. Baseball America ranked him as the 69th best prospect in baseball coming into the 2016 season. Tate’s stock took a hit in the first half because he hurt his hamstring and his velocity wavered, so much so that he sat in the upper-80s rather than the mid-90s at times. His stock was down quite a bit.

Rather than be scared away, New York targeted Tate in the Beltran trade and was willing to take on some risk in order to get premium talent. The Yankees never have access to players like Tate (and Frazier) in the draft. They never pick in the top ten. They were able to acquire that kind of talent at the deadline. To get Frazier, they gave up a great player in Miller. To get Tate, they had to roll the dice and trade their best hitter for a reclamation project. The Yankees didn’t play it safe. They’re shooting for the moon.

The Nova Trade: A Small Return Is Better Than No Return

Minutes prior to the trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Ivan Nova to the Pirates for two players to be named later. Two! That’s one more than I expected. Nova was another impending free agent, and again, there was no reason to keep him. He wasn’t a qualifying offer candidate and it wasn’t like he was pitching well either. A few teams were interested, including the Rangers, but ultimately Cashman connected with his favorite trade partner and sent Nova to Pittsburgh.

The Yankees didn’t get a whole lot for Nova. Tito Polo could maybe be a speedy fourth outfielder down the line, and Stephen Tarpley figures to get plenty of chances as a hard-throwing lefty, but neither player is likely to have much of an impact. They’re spare parts. They’re also better than nothing, which is what the Yankees would have received had they kept Nova and let him finish out the season in pinstripes. Keeping Ivan would have been pointless given the team’s place in the standings.

The Nova trade was a common sense trade. Get whatever you can and move on. Polo and Tarpley probably won’t amount to much, but you never really know. Tarpley could figure out how to throw his breaking ball for strikes, or perhaps some team wants Polo as the third piece in a trade. Point is, the Yankees had an asset in Nova whose value was rapidly approaching zero. They accepted a small return at the deadline because a small return is better than no return.

Masahiro Tanaka finishes seventh in AL Cy Young voting

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Earlier tonight, the BBWAA announced Red Sox righty Rick Porcello has won the 2016 AL Cy Young award. He won despite receiving fewer first place votes (14-8) than Tigers righty Justin Verlander, who finished second in the voting. Indians righty Corey Kluber finished third. Here are the full voting results.

This was the second closest vote in Cy Young history. Porcello beat out Verlander by a mere five voting points. The closest vote ever? Back in 2012, when Verlander finished four points behind David Price. Womp womp. Porcello won because he had way more second place than Verlander (18-2), and also because two writers left Verlander off their ballot entirely. A Red Sox pitcher second placing his way to the Cy Young is fitting, I’d say.

Anywho, Masahiro Tanaka finished tied for the seventh in the voting with Blue Jays righty Aaron Sanchez. Tanaka received one fourth place vote and four fifth place votes. He finished behind Porcello, Verlander, Kluber, Orioles closer Zach Britton, White Sox lefty Chris Sale, and Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ. Tanaka received Cy Young votes for the first time this year, and they were well deserved.

Also noteworthy: ex-Yankee Andrew Miller finished ninth in the Cy Young voting. He received one third place vote. Hooray for that. Gary Sanchez finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting and Joe Girardi finished fifth in the Manager of the Year voting. The MVPs will be announced tomorrow.

The Time the Yankees Traded the Best Relief Pitcher in Baseball [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I can’t think of another player who became as beloved as a Yankee as Andrew Miller despite spending so little time with the Yankees. He didn’t even win a championship in New York or anything. Miller wore pinstripes for only a season and a half, yet he was a fan favorite, a clubhouse favorite, and one of the team’s best and most reliable players. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call him one of the greatest free agent signings in Yankees history.

Miller’s departure from the Yankees really had nothing to do with Miller himself. He went above and beyond the call of duty in New York, but the rest of the team was not ready to contend, so much so that they needed an infusion of young talent. The dominant and affordable Miller was one of the club’s most valuable trade chips, so when the trade deadline rolled around, the Yankees entertained offers. Eventually someone met their demands.

The Spring Injury

The trade deadline was not the first time the Yankees dangled Miller on the trade market. They listened to offers over the winter and reportedly discussed sending him to the Astros for a package similar to what Houston sent to the Phillies for Ken Giles, but things never came together. Miller remained with the Yankees and reported to Spring Training not really knowing what his role would be.

“Certainly, they felt like more firepower can help us reach the goals. And if that’s what it takes to get there, then I’m all for it,” said Miller after Joe Girardi declared the newly acquired Aroldis Chapman the team’s closer. “I came here to play for the Yankees. I had a choice to go there. My goal is to win … I’m not worried about some sort of milestone or Hall of Fame case or anything like that. I’m just trying to go out there and win.”

MLB announced Chapman’s suspension in early-March, which meant, once again, Miller would be the team’s closer. At least temporarily. He went about his business in Spring Training, got his work in, and prepared for the season as usual. Preparing to be a closer is no different than preparing to be a setup man. Then, on March 30th, right at the end of camp, Miller took a line drive to his right wrist.

That looked bad. It looked bad and it was bad, really. Tests showed Miller suffered a chip fracture in his right wrist, and after seeing a specialist, he was cleared to play through the injury. MLB rules would not allow him to wear a brace, even on his glove hand. He would have to gut it out for several weeks.

Thirty Games as Closer

If the wrist injury had a lingering effect on Miller’s performance, it didn’t show during the regular season. He went 6-for-6 in save chances during the first 30 games of the season — the Yankees didn’t give him many leads to protect, unfortunately — and during that time he allowed seven hits and one walk with 20 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. At one point Miller retired 22 straight batters with 14 strikeouts. Yeah.

Miller’s most memorable moment as the closer this year was his final save chance before Chapman’s suspension ended. The Red Sox were in town and the Yankees were nursing a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning. Girardi went to Miller for the four-out save, and after getting the final out of the eighth, he loaded the bases with one out on three singles (Josh Rutledge, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts) in the ninth. It was butt-clenching time. Then Miller did what Miller does (with some help from home plate umpire Ron Kulpa).

Three days later, Chapman returned from his suspension and took over as the closer. Miller did nothing to lose the job, but Chapman has been one of the best closers in baseball over the last few years, so the Yankees gave him the job. Miller could have made a big stink about it — more than a few players would have, I’m sure — but he didn’t. He slid back into the eighth inning and Dellin Betances took over the seventh.

“What do you want me to do? You want me to throw a fit?” said Miller the day Chapman returned. “The goal here is to win. I think if you go around and ask, there’s 25 lockers in here, and I think everyone is going to say that. We haven’t gotten off to the start that we want to. I think we’ve played well in the last couple of days, and the goal is to keep that going. Wins are what’s fun at the end of the day.”

Back to the Eighth

Weirdly enough, Chapman allowed a run before Miller this season. Chapman gave up a run in his first game back from the suspension. Miller didn’t allow his first run until the next day. He entered the eighth inning with a one-run lead against the Royals, then allowed a leadoff home run to Lorenzo Cain. (It was Cain’s third homer of the night.) The Yankees rallied to win that game, but still, Miller finally allowed a run, and some tried to make it a thing that he was unhappy about losing his closer’s job.

“There shouldn’t be (an adjustment). It should be the same,” said Miller after that game. “I’m out there trying to get outs, and unfortunately, I made a bad pitch and had to pay for it. Honestly, I’m just focused on the hitters. I’m trying as much (as I can) to concentrate on that.”

To the surprise of no one, Miller went right back to dominating as the setup man, and along with Chapman and Betances, he help form one of the most devastating bullpen trios in baseball history. In 30 games and 31.2 innings as the eighth inning guy, Miller pitched to a 1.99 ERA (2.55 FIP) with 54 strikeouts and six walks. That’s a 44.3% strikeout rate and a 4.9% walk rate, so yeah. He also had a 54.2% ground ball rate too.

Miller allowed eight runs (seven earned) in those 31.2 innings and five came on home runs. All solo shots. One was even a walk-off. I totally forgot about this:

That was basically the only way to score against Miller for those three months (or ever). You had to hope he made a mistake you could hit out of the park. Putting together a rally against him — stringing together singles and walks, that sort of thing — is basically impossible. He misses too many bats and he doesn’t beats himself with walks, which is sort of crazy because earlier in his career, Miller had a lot of problems throwing strikes.

For the first time in his career, Miller was an All-Star this season, and he actually had a tough outing in the All-Star Game itself. He entered the eighth inning with a two-run lead and it went fly out (Brandon Belt), single (Jonathan Lucroy), strikeout (Jay Bruce), single (Starling Marte), walk (Adam Duvall). Miller loaded the bases and threw 28 pitches in two-thirds of an inning. Will Harris had to come in to bail him out. (Harris struck out Aledmys Diaz to strand the bases loaded.)

The Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs on July 25th, so for his final week in pinstripes, Miller returned to the ninth inning and served as the closer. He converted both save chances and struck out three in two scoreless innings that week. All told, Miller had a 1.39 ERA (1.78 FIP) in 45.1 innings with the Yankees in 2016. He struck out 77 (44.8%), walked seven (4.1%), and got a ton of grounders (52.9%). Miller also saved eight games in eight tries in his two short stints as closer. Total domination.

The Trade Deadline

On the morning of July 31st, the Yankees were 52-51 and 4.5 games back of the second wildcard spot with four teams ahead of them. They’d lost their last three games as well. The Yankees had been spinning their wheels all season. Each hot streak was met with an equally long cold streak. It had been a struggle all season just to get over .500. Remember that? They didn’t do it for good until August 10th.

There was no real indication the Yankees were going to make any sort of run in the second half. Chapman had already been traded, so the team was ready to sell, though Miller was different. Chapman was going to be a free agent after the season. Miller is signed through 2018 at an affordable rate. The Yankees didn’t have to trade Miller the way they had to trade Chapman (and Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova). There was no reason not to listen to offers though.

Just about every contender in baseball had interest in Miller. The Indians, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Rangers, Astros, Nationals, Red Sox, Cardinals … you name the team and they wanted him, understandably. The Yankees set the price high and let teams come to them. It was a bidding war, and when it was all said and done, the Indians stepped up and gave the Yankees what they wanted.

On July 31st, the day before the trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Miller to Cleveland for a package of four prospects: outfielder Clint Frazier, left-hander Justus Sheffield, and right-handers Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. Baseball America ranked Frazier and Sheffield as the 21st and 69th best prospects in baseball, respectively, in their midseason top 100 list earlier in July. They were the headliners.

“One of those two wouldn’t have been enough. We had to have them both,” said Cashman after the trade. “(There) was a pit in my stomach that I have the most difficult job of all in calling Andrew Miller. Andrew, he didn’t want to go anywhere. He loved playing here. Andrew was everything you want. Unfortunately, we had a lot of areas that need to be addressed, so unfortunately he was part of that type of solution.”

After the Trade

The Indians didn’t acquire Miller to get to the postseason. They had a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central on the day of the trade and FanGraphs put their postseason odds at 95.0%. Cleveland made the trade because they wanted to win the World Series, and they very nearly did that thanks in large part to Miller. The Indians pushed the best team in baseball to extra innings in Game Seven of the World Series, and they did it without Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco. They came so close!

Miller was Miller after the trade. He had a 1.55 ERA (1.53 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (44.7%) and grounders (56.4%), and few walks (1.9%) in 29 regular season innings with the Indians. Coincidentally enough, Miller earned his first of three regular season saves with Cleveland against the Yankees.

Miller took it to another level in the postseason, allowing three runs in 19.2 innings with 30 strikeouts and five walks. He set new MLB records for strikeouts and innings by a reliever in a single postseason. Miller recorded at least four outs in all ten postseason outings and was named ALCS MVP in Cleveland’s five-game series win over the Blue Jays. The guy was marvelous. Miller gave the Indians everything they needed and then some.

Outlook for 2017

The Indians are a small payroll team and they did ride Miller hard in the postseason, so I suppose there’s a chance they will entertain trading him this offseason to replenish the farm system. That’s nothing more than my speculation though. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to listen. Teams may still be willing to pay through the nose for bullpen help like they did at the trade deadline.

As for the Yankees, the focus is on the four prospects they received in the Miller trade. Heller made his MLB debut after the deal and figures to be a bullpen factor next season. Frazier is slated to begin the season in Triple-A and could reach the show at some point during the summer. Sheffield will start next year in Double-A and Feyereisen will be in Triple-A. They’re all pretty close to the big leagues, so we’ll see what happens. Nothing we can do other than wait.

In his year and a half as a Yankee, Miller was essentially the perfect player. He was ultra-productive, he was willing to pitch in any role, and he was on a bargain contract. You wish you could have 25 guys like this on your roster. Miller was not the problem in any way. The rest of the team was the problem. I don’t think anyone didn’t love Andrew Miller. He’s awesome. It’s a shame he had to go, but it was the right move. Given their current state, the Yankees need the young talent more than they need a dominant reliever.

Random Thoughts

Andrew Miller
(Getty)

The World Series

With the Chicago Cubs clinching the NL pennant, earning a spot in the World Series opposite the Cleveland Andrew Millers, one of the two longest World Series droughts in baseball will come to an end. Many have noted all the stuff that’s happened since the Cubs had last been in the Fall Classic (1945) and this will be the first time the Cubs franchise will play in a World Series that features players of color.

As it has been since 2009, rooting in the World Series will be relatively stress free. That’s the one upside of the Yankees missing the playoffs that I always mention this time of year. Watching playoff baseball–or any sport’s playoffs, for that matter–without having to live and die with each pitch is a wonderful experience. Granted, the combination of having an infant with me and the 8 PM start times, I really only get a few innings of stress-free enjoyment until the Sandman–and I don’t mean Mariano Rivera–comes and gets me.

MatsuiMVP
(AP)

Awards Season

When the World Series ends, awards season begins to kick off the Hot Stove season. I used to be very into this time of year, getting very passionate about whom I thought should win, spilling a lot of digital ink and dying on a lot of digital hills about this. Still, that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the idea of having opinions about this thing. Without doing any sort of real research, my picks for the awards are:

AL MVP: Mike Trout. It should just be Trout until…whenever? I know there are cases for other players this year, but the MVP is Mike Trout and probably will be Mike Trout next year, too.

NL MVP: Kris Bryant. Great year? Check. Successful team? Check. A narrative? Check. Dude’s probably got this in the bag and has for a long while.

AL Cy Young: Masahiro Tanaka. Why? Because I’m being a homer, dammit, that’s why.

NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez. Call this a sentimental pick, but I don’t care. Jose Fernandez and the way he approached baseball represent everything good and right about the game. His attitude made baseball fun for him and those around him in myriad ways. The voters should honor his spirit with this year’s award, then create an award named after him from here on out.

AL ROY: Gary Sanchez. I’m still a homer.

NL ROY: Cory Seager. This one is so obvious it’s almost boring. If you wanna throw Trea Turner a vote or two, fine, but it’s likely to be Seager, as it well should be.

Changes

Once again, the Yankees are going to look way different next year than they did this year. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are gone. It’s possible that one of Brett Gardner or Brian McCann will be gone. It seems that the team’s only constant has been change lately, though this year’s additions may be a bit harder to predict. I’m sure they’ll go after a big bullpen arm, but beyond that, I’m really not sure. But, either way, I’m looking forward to seeing a new group out there for 2017, especially when that means full years from Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and hopefully Greg Bird.

Andrew Miller has been brilliant this postseason, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees should regret the trade

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Later tonight, the easy to love Indians will look to take a commanding three games to none lead in the ALCS. They held the Blue Jays to one run total in Games One and Two over the weekend. A big reason why: Andrew Miller. He’s struck out ten and allowed just one hit in 3.2 innings. So far this postseason he’s fanned 17 in 7.2 scoreless innings. Total domination.

The most impressive thing about Miller’s postseason is not necessarily his strikeout total, I don’t think, though it’s obviously fantastic. It’s the workload. He’s recorded at least five outs in each of his four appearances, plus Indians skipper Terry Francona has used Miller against the middle of the other team’s lineup. He’s not just dominating. He’s dominating the other team’s best hitters.

With Miller being basically the perfect relief pitcher this postseason, it’s only natural to wonder whether the Yankees made a mistake by trading him at the deadline. After all, he was under contract for another two seasons, so while he wouldn’t be doing this for New York this October, there was always next year and the year after. The Yankees traded not only an elite player, but pretty much the ideal team player, for prospects. Prospects!

The other night on the postgame show Pete Rose called the Miller trade a huge mistake, and, well, he’s Pete Rose, the all-time hit king, so clearly everything he says it correct. I don’t see it that way though. Sure, ultimately the Miller trade could turn out to be a massive mistake, but we are a very long way from knowing that for sure. The best way to judge this trade right now is using the information we had at the time, which is:

1. The Yankees were long shots. The Yankees did make a spirited run in August and early-September, but on the day of the Miller trade, they had just lost three straight and were 4.5 games back of the second wildcard spot with four teams ahead of them. There was no indication whatsoever the team would make a run to the postseason, and ultimately, they fell way short of a playoff spot. Miller wasn’t making up the five-game deficit by himself.

2. The bullpen market was nuts. One week prior to the Miller trade, the Yankees dealt Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for one great prospect (Gleyber Torres) and three other solid pieces. That’s a tremendous haul for a rental reliever, even one as good as Chapman. Two years ago the Red Sox got one good prospect for rental Miller. The Yankees traded Miller at a time when the demand for relievers was at an all-time high. It’s simple supply and demand. The demand was high and the Yankees had the only supply. They cashed in big time.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

3. The return was widely praised. The Yankees received a top 25 prospect (Clint Frazier), a second top 100 prospect (Justus Sheffield), and two others (Ben Heller, J.P. Feyereisen) for Miller, and the consensus was they made a fantastic trade. Keith Law (subs. req’d) said the Yankees “have done extremely well.” One executive told Jayson Stark the team “did the right thing.” Buster Olney called it a “strong haul.” Try to find a negative reaction to the trade at the time it was made. I’ll wait. There wasn’t even the token “big mistake” quote from an anonymous scout.

4. The Yankees badly need young talent. The Yankees are old. They’re getting younger now, but generally speaking, they had a very veteran team this past season. The need for an infusion of young talent has been obvious for a while, and while guys like Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge were knocking on the door at midseason, the Yankees still needed more pieces. They weren’t a “one or two young players away from contention” team. The trade brought in the high-end talent the Yankees need to build the core of the next winning team.

In the short-term, the trade has done nothing for the Yankees other than boost their farm system ranking. Heller’s thrown a few innings in the big leagues, but nothing meaningful. For the Indians, this trade has had enormous impact in the short-term, which is what they expected. They traded for Miller because they want to win the World Series for the first time since 1948. This was an all-in move, the kind of all-in move small payroll teams rarely make.

This is a trade we won’t be able to evaluate for years from the Yankees’ perspective. And I might be a total dud when it’s all said and done. Who knows? Finding out is part of the fun. Miller’s immediate success — no one is surprised by this, right? he’s been awesome for a while now — doesn’t make the trade a mistake any more than immediate failure would have made the trade a steal. All the years of control involved make this a long-term evaluation.

“I want the teams that stepped up and made those trades to be rewarded for doing so. It would justify the action they took,” said Brian Cashman to John Harper. “I have absolutely no regrets about the deals we made — other than being in the position we were in. We did what we had to do, and hopefully everybody wins.”