CLEVELAND, Ohio – The market was indeed “robust’ for Andrew Miller.
Miller, who spent the last 2½ years with the Indians, has agreed to a two-year, $25 million deal with the Cardinals. In doing so he is the latest free agent to say adios to Cleveland. On Monday, Michael Brantley agreed a two-year, $32 million deal with Houston and Rajai Davis agreed to a minor-league deal with the Mets.
The Indians’ list of unsigned free agents has shrunk from 12 to seven. Lonnie Chisenhall signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with Pittsburgh and Josh Donaldson signed for one year and $23 million with Atlanta earlier in the offseason.
Among the unsigned players who spent time with the Indians last season are Cody Allen, Josh Tomlin, Brandon Guyer, Melky Cabrera, Oliver Perez, Adam Rosales and Brandon Barnes.
Miller was a boom or bust reliever for the Tribe. He helped pitch them to within one win of the 2016 World Series after being acquired from the Yankees in a July 31 deal. The last two years, however, the 6-7 left-hander made five trips to the disabled list with a variety of injuries and never looked like the same super reliever he was in the second half of the 2016 season.
The Cardinals will pay Miller, 33, $11 million in 2019 and $11.5 million in 2020, according to reports. The deal includes a vesting option for 2021 and a full no-trade clause.
At the winter meetings, a source said the market for Miller was “robust.” The source had it right. The Cardinals were one of nine teams that showed initial interest.
The Indians sent Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen to the Yankees for Miller. After the Astros eliminated the Indians from this year’s ALDS, they told Miller that they would be unable to re-sign him because of where his salary was headed.
The loss of Miller, and the potential loss of Allen and Perez, has given the Tribe’s bullpen a bare-bones look. Allen was the Tribe’s closer and Miller their primary set-up man. Perez was their top left-on-left reliever.
Brad Hand will handle the closer’s job, but the rest of the pen needs to be reshaped. The signing of Miller could open the market for Allen, who has drawn steady, but not overwhelming, interest. There may still be a chance for the Indians to sign Allen, but right now things are quiet.
There has been mutual interest between Perez and the Indians, but they certainly aren’t going to get him at last season’s bargain price of an estimated $1.5 million plus incentives.
At the winter meeting earlier this month, manager Terry Francona when asked about the bullpen said, “For the first time (last season) our bullpen was inconsistent. Cody had issues from time to time. Andrew wasn’t always healthy. Neil Ramirez had a stretch where he was lights out. Then he had stretches where he wasn’t. That’s probably the hardest thing for a manager is when you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Francona pointed to the anticipated return of Nick Goody, who missed most of last season with a right elbow injury. He liked what he saw of Jon Edwards in September, calling him a “huge sleeper.” He felt Adam Cimber, who joined the Indians with Hand in July from San Diego for catcher Francisco Mejia, would improve.
Perez did a great job for the Tribe. Lefties hit .194 against him and righties .104. He allowed just four of 34 inherited runners to score, the best percentage in the AL.
If he doesn’t re-sign, can Tyler Olson fill that spot? Olson, after trying to pitch through a left lat injury with poor results, came off the disabled list and didn’t allow a run in his last 14 appearances with the Tribe. Lefties hit .182 against him and righties .314.
Danny Salazar and Cody Anderson could help the pen as well. Salazar missed the entire 2018 season because of a sore right shoulder that eventually needed surgery. Anderson was rebounding from Tommy John surgery in 2017. They’ve spent most of their careers as starters, but may have to focus on the bullpen now, especially if the Indians don’t trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
Hand, between San Diego and Cleveland, converted 32 of 39 save situations. But who is going to be his set-up man if Allen doesn’t return? Dan Otero and Neil Ramirez would need great springs to have a shot at that job. Perhaps spring-training invitee James Hoyt will get a chance or newcomers Walker Lockett, Chih-Wei Hu or Jefry Rodriguez.
“We know we have some work to do out there still,” said Francona.
The statistics back that up. After leading MLB in bullpen ERA in 2017, the Indians finished with the third-highest ERA in the AL last season.