The Chicago Cubs will have a bigger wishlist this off-season than they have had previously under Theo Epstein and Co. Veteran hitters–leaders–and starting pitching will be at the top of that list. And while the Cubs’ bullpen performed very well, there is still room for improvement. There always is. One player the Cubs could look at pursuing this winter is Andrew Miller.
James Russell had been a key piece to the Cubs for several years, and for a while was the only lefty out of the bullpen. With the signing of veteran Wesley Wright, the Cubs found the timing to trade him too good to pass up. Russell was paired with Emilio Bonifacio and sent to the Atlanta Braves for catching prospect Victor Caratini. The Cubs included $1 million in cash to get the deal done, to get the prospect they wanted. While pitching depth isn’t a strong suit in Chicago, depth at the catcher’s spot is likely the thinnest in the system.
Miller was a first-round pick in 2006, drafted sixth overall by the Detroit Tigers. A kid named Clayton Kershaw followed him in that draft. A 6’7″ lefty, the 29-year-old was given the opportunity to start early in his career, but found little success with any of the three teams (Detroit, Florida, Boston). But since being moved to the bullpen, Miller has flourished, and will be one the most coveted reliever signings this off-season.
With a fastball clocked in the upper 90’s, and one of the best sliders in the game, Miller’s 14.87 K/9 ranked second in baseball, trailing only Aroldis Chapman. Using FanGraphs “Pitch Values”, he had the most valuable slider in baseball. And he is far from a lefty specialist”. Miller can been sent out for more than one batter, a very valuable trait as a LHP.
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Miller posted a superb 2.02 ERA, and showed the best control in his career, walking only 2.5 batters per nine innings. He allowed less than one baserunner per inning. In close games, which the Cubs had many, that is a vital statistic to keep in mind.
He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles from the Boston Red Sox at the July deadline. As good as Miller was prior to the trade, he seemed to only get better down the stretch, helping the O’s clinch the AL East. In the final three months of the season, he posted a 1.48 ERA. After the July trade he allowed less than two walks per nine innings (1.8). And to finish, he pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs in five appearances.
The question for Miller is, has he solved his control issues? Prior to this season, he walked 5.2 batters per nine in 136 innings from 2011-13. The Cubs need consistency out of the bullpen, and it’s hard to say if he’s passed that as 70 innings is a small sample, especially for what type of contract he will likely command.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Miller is a “strong union man who believes in the right of a player to seek the best contract for himself when he reaches free agency.” What this means is Miller won’t be giving any “hometown discount”. It’s believed he would like to play in Boston, but if the bid isn’t at the top, he’ll go elsewhere. Miller has the ability to anchor any bullpen, and there will be no lack of suitors.
The Cubs are unlikely to get into a bidding war for Miller, no matter how talented he may be. The may reach out to gauge interest in pitching in Chicago, but will walk away if the price tag is too high. Not often do relievers, non-closers, get multi-year deals–especially four-years. But with his stuff, and likely ability to handle the ninth inning for teams, he may get that deal.