Oh, what could have been. The Tigers were reportedly close to dealing for left-handed reliever Andrew Miller at the non-waiver trade deadline this season, only to see the Baltimore Orioles swoop in at the last minute to lock him down. Just over two months later, Miller tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a pair of crucial spots against the Tigers in the ALDS. It's tough to say that one player -- and a reliever, at that -- could have turned the tide of a 3-0 series, but a pitcher as dominant as Miller can help shape an entire bullpen.
Now that he's a free agent, should the Tigers go get him?
Who is he?
Tigers fans should be plenty familiar with Miller. The team drafted him in the first round of the 2006 draft, one spot ahead of fellow left-hander Clayton Kershaw. Miller made his MLB debut later that season, throwing 10 1/3 innings for the Tigers down the stretch. After making 13 underwhelming starts for the club in 2007, Miller was part of the blockbuster trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit before the 2008 season. He struggled as a starter for the Marlins as well, posting a 5.89 ERA in 220 innings.
Miller was traded to the Boston Red Sox after the 2010 season, but it wasn't until the club made him a full-time reliever in 2012 that Miller began to shine. He put up a 3.35 ERA and 3.17 FIP in 40 1/3 innings for the Red Sox in 2012, then posted a 2.64 ERA and 3.05 FIP in 2013 before a foot injury ended his season in July. The 2014 season was Miller's best as a professional, as he allowed a 2.02 ERA and 1.51 FIP in 62 1/3 innings for the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Why should we care?
Look at the first row of statistics in the table above. Miller was lights out in 2014, allowing just 14 runs in 62 1/3 innings. He struck out a whopping 42.6 percent of the batters he faced -- including 49 percent of the lefties -- and only walked seven percent. He gave up three home runs all season long. Opposing batters hit .153/.229/.227 against him with just 10 extra base hits in 242 plate appearances. He was one of 10 relievers -- and one of three non-closers -- in baseball worth 2.0 WAR or more.
This isn't a one-year thing, either. Miller has a career 3.38 ERA and 3.02 FIP in 167 2/3 relief innings, with 12.61 strikeouts per nine innings. Opponents are hitting .197/.308/.296 off him in relief, and .175/.265/.251 in the past two seasons. He has dealt with command issues, but does not allow many home runs; his career ISO allowed as a reliever is just .103. Opposing batters whiffed on 13.2 percent of the pitches he threw in 2013, and 14.6 percent last year.
Why should we stay away?
Miller's dynamite 2014 season upped his price tag considerably this offseason, both in years and dollars. Last year, a three year, $15 million contract for Miller would have been seen as a big overpay. This year? It won't even get you to the negotiating table. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Miller will get a four year, $32 million contract, and I don't think that figure is too far-fetched. Power lefty arms like Miller's don't come around often -- remember his pedigree on draft day, after all -- and he was as dominant as the likes of Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman last year. Whether he's signed as a closer or not, he will get closer money this winter.
Despite what he did in 2014, Miller's command is still a concern. He walked 12.6 percent of the batters he faced in 2013 -- including 16.4 percent of right-handed hitters -- and has issues 4.67 free passes per nine innings as a reliever in his career. If his low walk rate in 2014 was an anomaly, then whichever team ends up with Miller will have massively overpaid.
Miller is going to cost a lot, but this feels like a situation where Dave Dombrowski goes out and gets the best arm available. He did the same thing with Joaquin Benoit prior to the 2011 season, and the deal worked out as well as anyone could have imagined. Miller presents with just as many question marks as Benoit did, but his relative youth -- he will turn 30 next May -- and power arm are valuable attributes. If he avoids walking too many hitters, he could be a monster for whichever team signs him this offseason.