The Atlanta Braves done lost their minds. That's how it might sound to many a southern Braves fan, at least. One year after pulling off a savvy trade to get some value for the final year of Jason Heyward's arbitration eligibility, Atlanta is looking to move starting pitcher Shelby Miller, the major return piece in that deal.
This trade idea is stupid.
There, now I feel better. The Braves' offseason has been 12 shades of weird so far, but the main idea is that Miller, a 25-year-old who posted a 3.02 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 205 1/3 innings last season, is now on the trade block. Twenty -- twenty -- MLB teams have inquired on Miller's availability in some fashion, and rumors are running rampant about where the former 1st round pick will end up next. Sheer probability suggests that the Detroit Tigers were one of those 20 teams, and given that they could use some cost-controlled starting pitching, one has to assume they're involved.
Who is he?
A 1st round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009, Miller drew plenty of hype throughout his ascent through the minor leagues. Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus labeled him a top-50 prospect as early as 2010, and he climbed into the top 20 not long after. His major league debut came in 2012, when he made a handful of September appearances for the Cards en route to yet another NLCS appearance.
Miller finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, tossing 173 1/3 innings with a 3.01 ERA and 2.96 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made another 31 starts for the Cardinals in 2014, but regressed to a 3.74 ERA and 4.54 FIP. His strikeout rate dipped from 23.4 percent in 2013 to just 16.6 percent in 2014. The decline proved to just be a sophomore slump, though, as Miller rebounded with a 3.02 ERA in 205 1/3 innings last year.
Why should we care?
Once pegged as a two-pitch pitcher, Miller has evolved and is now on the verge of another breakout. The Braves helped Miller add a sinker and cutter to his arsenal, both of which induced ground balls at a 50 percent clip in 2015. His four-seam fastball averaged 95 miles per hour last season, and he got as low as the high 70s with his curveball. The cutter was the key, though. Not only did it help him restore his strikeout numbers, but it also led to a career-best ground ball rate and a career-low home run rate.
Unlike trades for many other established big leaguers, Miller isn't a one-year rental. The 25-year-old is just reaching arbitration for the first time this offseason, and is under club control through the 2018 season. Three prime years of a cost-controlled starter are quite valuable, and may be enough for general manager Al Avila to part with some of the team's few prized prospects.
Why should we stay away?
As ridiculous as the Braves have been this offseason, they got a lot of value out of the Andrelton Simmons trade. They are reportedly asking for the moon in negotiations for Miller, as they should. The Tigers may not have the pieces to make a deal like this happen, and if they did, it would almost certainly mean the end of Michael Fulmer's Tigers career. Getting Miller would be nice, but it may take a Dombrowski-like gut-the-farm deal to bring him to Detroit.
While two of Miller's three MLB seasons have been very productive, it's still fair to question whether he is truly a front-of-the-rotation arm worth gutting the farm system for. Miller's home run rate took a huge dive in 2015 thanks in part to a lower fly ball rate, but he also allowed home runs on just 6.4 percent of the fly balls he did allow. This was well below the NL average of 11.4 percent, and one should assume at least some regression is in order. Miller's career xFIP is just 4.08, and Steamer projects him for an unsightly 4.09 ERA in 2016.
Will he end up in Detroit?
A trade of this magnitude seems unlikely, but the Tigers have played things very close to the vest so far this offseason. Avila seems dead set on building the team from within and holding onto the few prospects that he does have, but trading for a player like Miller is a unique opportunity. Unfortunately, Atlanta is (rightly) asking for a gut-wrenching return, one that will probably be too rich for Detroit's blood.