Player Acquisition Cost: LHP Andrew Miller
With the best record in baseball and a nine game lead in the division, the Chicago Cubs have been seemingly a bulletproof team. A huge off-season spending spree gave the club a ton of depth, but this front office has never been one to rest on its laurels when it comes to improving the club during the season.
Perhaps the biggest thing on their wish list at the moment is a shutdown left-handed reliever. Travis Wood has continued to excel in relief as evidenced by his 3-0 record, 2.25 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 24 innings. Clayton Richard has been another story and has been by far the Cubs worst reliever so far. In 19 games, he’s pitched to a 0-1 record, 6.55 ERA, 2.09 WHIP and 6 strikeouts in 11 innings. During last season, Wood did his best work in long relief, so an upgrade could slide him back into that role.
The team’s fast start has many Cubs fans World Series dreaming, so a big move could help put this team over the edge. The best left-handed reliever out there is probably Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees. There have already been reports linking the Cubs to Miller and the Yankees. And the two teams have already matched up a trade that swapped Starlin Castro for Adam Warren during the off-season.
There’s a lot to like about Miller. The 6-foot-7, 205-pound pitcher is an imposing figure and has history with the current front office. In 2010, Theo Epstein acquired him from the Miami Marlins, but it wasn’t until after Epstein left, that Miller’s career really took off when he made the switch from starter to reliever. In 279 career games in relief, Miller has a 16-13 record, 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .182 batting average against and a staggering 383 strikeouts in 256 innings. He also has a fair amount of control available as he’s signed through 2018 at $9 million per year. For this season, Miller has been lights out. In 26 games, he’s 3-0 with seven saves, an amazing 1.01 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.
Over the past two years, Miller has added closing to his repertoire and has amassed 44 saves. While Hector Rondon is currently entrenched in that role for the Cubs, having a veteran like Miller available could be very valuable if needed.
That closing experience coupled with his two years of control after this season almost put him on the level of Craig Kimbrel, one of the top relievers in all of baseball. In his career, Kimbrel has a 1.67 ERA, saved 239 games and struck out 598 batters in 371.2 innings. Over the past two years, Kimbrel has been traded twice and each deal would be a great comparison for what it might take to acquire Miller.
In the first trade, OF Melvin Upton Jr., $24 million in cash and Kimbrel were shipped from the Atlanta Braves to the San Diego Padres for OF Cameron Maybin, OF Carlos Quentin, OF Jordan Paroubeck, RHP Matt Wisler and a competitive balance draft pick.
Kimbrel had four years of control remaining at $33 million thanks to a $13 million option for 2018. Upton Jr. was a salary dump who still had three years and $46 million left on his deal and batted just .197 in a Braves uniform.
In return, the Braves got two salary dumps of their own in Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin. Injuries ultimately helped derail Quentin’s Major League career and couldn’t stay on the field enough to be a factor for the Padres. Maybin was signed to a five-year extension in 2012 on the heels of a promising first season. After his extension, Maybin never showed the same promise again as injuries also wrecked his effectiveness. At just 28, Maybin was worth the risk to a Braves team that needed bodies though. The real prizes for the Braves though were the prospects.
At the time of the deal, Wisler was rated among the top 75 prospects in baseball and number two overall in the San Diego system. The right-hander features a hard slider, a fastball with good movement that tops out in the low-90s and three other pitches that help him induce ground balls. Paroubeck was San Diego’s second round pick in the 2014 draft thanks to a high upside power/speed package for the switch hitter. He was considered just in the Padres’ top 20 prospects.
Kimbrel’s second trade was this offseason, this time to the Boston Red Sox who sent over four top 30 prospects in OF Manuel Margot, SS Javier Guerra, INF Carlos Asuaje and LHP Logan Allen. Margot and Guerra were considered among the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.
Margot was the headliner in the deal, as he was within the Red Sox top 10 prospects and likely the Padres future center fielder. Scouts suggest he’s a solid five-tool talent with the ability to bat .280, hit 10-15 homers, steal 30 bases and play great defense. Guerra’s pedigree wasn’t too shabby either at top 15, thanks to his outstanding defense and possible 15 home run power. Asuaje was the oldest player at 24 and probably profiles as a future bench bat with experience at second and third base and left field. The top 25 prospect left handed batter has shown a little pop and some speed. Allen was an eighth round pick in the 2015 draft and already had shown increased velocity to go with his polish.
The last deal to consider was the one that sent left handed reliever Justin Wilson from the New York Yankees to the Detroit Tigers this off-season for RHP Luis Cessa and RHP Chad Green. The Tigers gained three years of control for the 28-year old Wilson who had a 3.10 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 61 innings the season prior.
Cessa was a top six prospect for the Tigers thanks to a fastball in the 93-95 mph range, a solid slurve and a changeup that will probably end up as average. He profiles as back of the rotation starter. Green is more of a top 20 prospect with a sinking fastball that ranges from 90-94 mph. His lack of decent secondary offerings will likely hamstring his starting possibilities in the majors.
Andrew Miller is probably in between both players in terms of value. Because of the cost certainty and lights out numbers, he’s going to command quite a haul regardless. According to the experts, the Cubs currently have a mid-pack system, but have more hitter depth than pitching. Rumors are that the Yankees are looking for starting pitching prospects to bolster their own rotation down the line, which presents a potential problem. If the Yankees are willing to make a deal, a couple of top 15 prospects will likely be necessary with some higher upside top 30’s as well.
Some potential names that are sure to be attractive are OF Billy McKinney, 3B Jeimer Candelario, OF Eloy Jimenez, RHP Pierce Johnson, 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Jake Stinnett. It might take a player like 2B/OF Ian Happ, RHP Dylan Cease or RHP Duane Underwood Jr. to close the deal though.
Seems like a steep price for a 31-year old reliever, but the Cubs bullpen’s 3.48 ERA is over a full run higher than the rotation has pitched to and the group needs some help. A setup man/potential closer like Miller, would give the bullpen a true shutdown reliever and give Joe Maddon another veteran option to seal the deal late in games.
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