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August 1, 2016

Transaction Analysis

Andrew Miller Joins the Tribe

by Bryan Grosnick, Christopher Crawford, Jarrett Seidler, Kenny Ducey and Adam McInturff

IN THIS ISSUE

American League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Acquired LHP Andrew Miller from New York Yankees for OF-R Clint Frazier, LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Ben Heller, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen. [7/31]

Sometimes, two deals when put together make a lot more sense than separately. Such is the case with the Indians’ Miller trade and their abortive attempt to acquire Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers. Don’t get me wrong, adding Andrew Miller, one of the game’s finest relievers and probably a top-five fireman in all of baseball may be a good deal even at the cost of the talented prospects that the Indians gave up to get him. But reports that Jonathan Lucroy was on his way to Cleveland before exercising his non-trade clause still leave this team unfinished.

But let’s focus on Miller for a moment first. Under contract for two more seasons after this one, Miller isn’t just a play for this year, he’s now a cog in this team’s bullpen for the near future. And if you have to add a top-flight closer to your team, it’s possible that Miller could be the best option in all of baseball at this point in his career. The left-hander possesses a devastating slider–the type of weapon that’s the apotheosis of all lefty sliders. According to Brooks Baseball, when hitters take a cut at Miller’s fastball they’re more likely to swing and miss than they are to swing and make some sort of contact. That’s an incredibly powerful tool, especially when Miller throws that breaking pitch about 60 percent of the time. The rest of the time, he throws a 95 mile-per-hour fastball, which is patently unfair. His DRA on the season is 1.39–it hasn’t gone above 1.55 over the last three seasons–which, sure enough, is the best in baseball among pitchers with more than 40 innings. Simply put, there’s a compelling argument that he is the best relief pitcher in the game.

The Indians’ bullpen has been middle-of-the-pack this season, with their relievers posting a 3.51 ERA and 3.88 FIP in almost 300 innings. This year’s big surprise has been Dan Otero–think of him as this year’s version of Jeff Manship, coming out of nowhere to post crazy numbers for the Tribe. Last year’s Jeff Manship–still Jeff Manship–hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was during the previous campaign. His 4.98 DRA belies his 3.38 ERA, and his strikeout rate has fallen back to his pre-Indians years. Of course, adding a top reliever to a bullpen allows the team to replace their worst regular reliever–in the Indians’ case, that’s likely Manship or second lefty Kyle Crockett–with an elite option, perhaps a swing of a win over the rest of the year.

But my guess is that this deal isn’t about making the playoffs, it’s about winning the playoffs. The Indians already have elite starting pitching behind Kluber, Salazar, and the rest of the crew. Cody Allen, Dan Otero, and Tommy Hunter have been good, but none of them have been the type of cringe-inducing, manager-sweating weapon that Andrew Miller has been over the past three seasons. He keeps balls from entering play, a critical task at the end of the year, even if the opposing team isn’t the contact-happy Royals. Miller makes the team substantially better, and given that he’s on a reasonable contract for two more seasons after this one makes it a bit easier to stomach the high cost of prospects for this team. (Make no mistake, the cost in prospects was high. Frazier was 53rd on BP’s Top 101 prior to the 2016 season, and Sheffield is a guy who could find his way onto a top-101 list in the future.)

Of course, we can’t help but wonder “what if” in regards to the Jonathan Lucroy deal. Without Miller getting a new battery mate in that separate deal, the Indians look unfinished. Roberto Perez is a serviceable backstop, but there’s still a hole in the lineup thanks to the team’s under-served outfield, and Lucroy would’ve filled it while adding plus catcher defense. The Indians may have a clear path to the postseason, and Miller will certainly help them when they get there, but the trade that didn’t happen would’ve made the trade that did look even better. —Bryan Grosnick

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired OF-R Clint Frazier, LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Ben Heller, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen from Cleveland Indians for LHP Andrew Miller. [7/31]

Ever since the Yankees parted with closer Aroldis Chapman, the biggest question leading up to the August 1st trade deadline was whether or not the Yankees would continue to sell off their best players.

Well, at long last, one of those players is gone. After three straight losses, and a giant offer from the Indians headed by two high-end prospects, general manager Brian Cashman was able to convince team ownership to part with dominant left-hander Andrew Miller.

The Yankees come out huge winners here. They initially saved money in Dec. 2014 by convincing Miller to leave $4 million on the table from a rival club to sign with them on a four-year, $36 million deal, and wound up with a bargain. The 31-year-old pitched like a $19 million-per-year player, saving 45 games and posting a 1.77 ERA in 107 innings for the Yankees over his year and a half. So, they paid just $9 million annually for elite relief, and cashed in big-time at this year’s deadline.

Miller still has two more years left on that great contract, earning just $9 million annually, so he could have been of use to the Yankees if they became contenders again in 2018. With that said, New York will probably be an even stronger contender in the future because of what the southpaw fetched them this summer.

As was the case with the Chapman trade, the Yankees will still have a dominant pitcher to come on for the ninth—Dellin Betances, who has closed games before, will likely step into that role. And, with the acquisition of Tyler Clippard, Betances’s old spot is already filled.

Whether or not Carlos Beltran, or Michael Pineda, or Ivan Nova move before the deadline, the Yankees have already succeeded in their quest to build for the near-future. The farm system that Baseball Prospectus rated no. 16 in baseball before the season is now flexing its muscles, and it’s all thanks to Hal Steinbrenner admitting defeat and allowing Cashman, one of the top executives in baseball, to “exploit the market,” as he called it on Sunday. —Kenny Ducey

Frazier, the fifth-overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, has been a well known and heavily scouted prospect since he was a high school underclassman. Frequently compared throughout the years with fellow Georgia prep outfielder and current top Pirates prospect Austin Meadows — the ninth-overall pick in the same draft — Frazier brings as much offensive potential as any player in the minor leagues, but also a slightly higher risk profile than most top Triple-A outfield prospects. We ranked him as the 53rd-best prospect in baseball entering the season, and bumped him up to 26th in our recent midseason update.

The most common scouting phrase you'll often hear with Frazier is “bat speed.” It’s really, really great bat speed, perhaps the best in the minors. The power projects as at least plus and potentially more, too. But there's also a significant amount of swing-and-miss in his game that could easily limit what is otherwise a near-limitless hitting upside, as he struggles with recognizing breaking balls and overall strike-zone judgment. He's a plus runner with a good arm, but profiles best in a corner defensively. Cleveland already had him mostly playing in right in deference to Bradley Zimmer.

Frazier has generally posted numbers that are good, but not overwhelming given league and age context. In Double-A Akron this season, Frazier hit a perfectly nice .276/.356/.469, earning a midseason promotion to Triple-A, where he played just five games before the trade. Sometimes, for a hitter with offensive tools this good, everything just clicks — and Frazier could be a superstar if it does. At a median outcome, he profiles as an above-average regular in an outfield corner, and a likely big fan favorite given his energy and fiery red hair. —Jarrett Seidler

Sheffield was Cleveland's second first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft out of Tullahoma HS in Tennessee, and he has quickly established himself as one of their best pitching prospects in the system. The younger brother of former Vanderbilt standout and Dodgers first-rounder Jordan Sheffield, Justus doesn't have the same kind of electric stuff as big bro, but he's the more likely of the two to start long term. The fastball is plus, sitting 91-93 with the occasional tick up into the mid 90s. If there's a concern here it's that the fastball command has actually regressed slightly, but not enough to make anyone believe he's a reliever. Both his curveball and change flash above average; the curve is the better swing-and-miss pitch because of its depth and hard spin, but the change has fade and he generates solid arm-speed when he's throwing it.

There are two concerns with Sheffield going forward: He’s diminutive—which is putting it nicely—and as mentioned above, the control has regressed, which isn't a great sign for a pitcher that relies on it. Still, with a chance for three above-average pitches and a delivery that suggests he should have at least average command, he has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter, and could move quickly through the New York system. —Christopher Crawford

Heller has gone from 22nd-round selection in 2013 from something called Olivet Nazarene University to becoming arguably one of the best relief pitching prospects in baseball. Baseball is weird.

Heller has excellent arm strength, and that helps him get into the 96-98 range with his fastball without much effort. The slider isn't plus-plus like the heater, but it does flash plus and is usually an above-average offering with late, hard tilt. When everything is clicking, this is a breaking pitch he can locate for strikes.There's no third pitch here, but he doesn't really need one in this type of role, and the command is good enough to project him as a high-leverage reliever. Don't be surprised if he's pitching in New York at some point this year, and maybe setting up Dellin Betances at some point in 2017. —Christopher Crawford

Feyereisen represents a type of player the Indians system has developed very well. Late-round relievers like him and Ben Heller, among others, gave Akron a very deep bullpen with plenty of flame-throwing arms.

He's a muscular, athletically-framed 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. He generates his plus velocity from the strong core and lower-half of a power pitcher. There's some noise in his delivery after his release, with a thwack as his lower half follows through that consistently pulls him off-line. His arm action plunges down and back behind him, which can limit the consistency of his control and command. His fastball will touch as high as 96 and sit comfortably at 93-95. His slider can be a solid secondary pitch at its best, coming in at 82-85 with sharp, darting tilt. His higher-effort mechanics alter the effectiveness of his breaking ball, and it doesn't always play like a miss-bat slider as a result.

Feyereisen has a lower ceiling as a reliever-only, and one that probably won't close. That said, the 23-year-old's value in this deal lies in his proximity to the big leagues--a high-floor piece who has the ingredients of a big-league middle man. —Adam McInturff

Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here
Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here
Jarrett Seidler is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jarrett's other articles. You can contact Jarrett by clicking here
Adam McInturff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Adam's other articles. You can contact Adam by clicking here

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