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Signed LHP Andrew Miller to a four-year deal worth $36 million. [12/5]
Even if you aren't a Yankees fan or a believer in paying a reliever $9 million per season, there are a few reasons to appreciate this deal—not the least of which is that it'll force Miller to acquire a razor.
Let's start with the obvious: It means Miller, once the no. 6 pick in the draft, has officially turned his career around. A shutdown reliever isn't what the Tigers had in mind when they drafted him, nor the Marlins when they traded for him, but it beats where he was headed a few years ago. These days Miller uses his limbs, longer than a stay at Hotel California, and a closed stride to create sharp angles. From there his explosive fastball and slider do the work. Whatever his role is—and it should be something in the final few innings—he has the stuff to perform it well.
Another thing to appreciate here is Brian Cashman's work with the bullpen. He's now added two power southpaws, in Justin Wilson and Miller, to go with Dellin Betances. What's more is Cashman holds all the leverage on the David Robertson talks. If Cashman feels the price is right, he can retain his closer and strengthen an already healthy-looking 'pen; if he feels the cost is absurd, he can pass and recoup a draft pick. Cashman has work to do on other parts of his roster, namely the rotation, but so far so good on this front. —R.J. Anderson
Simplifying the repertoire has done wonders for the former top pitching prospect. Since becoming a reliever Miller has restricted his pitch mix to a pure power-reliever fastball-slider pitch mix that both upped his command—which helps with WHIP and ERA—and elevated his strikeouts. With Robertson still hanging out there and Betances in the fold, there’s a very good possibility Miller spends the year as a setup guy. Potential save opportunities would change his value in a big way, but the question here is whether we treat Miller as we do his new pen-mate Betances. Crossing the 100-strikeout threshold is a big deal for a reliever with Miller’s peripherals, and a lefty who is death against both left- and right-handers is a very valuable piece when it comes to game theory. Miller’s fantasy needle remains neutral, as even without a clear closer in New York it’s difficult to give an upgrade to a reliever when he isn’t guaranteed saves. Even so, as a pure setup guy there’s potential he could return value similar to what Betances did in 2014.
Betances didn’t close last year, yet because of the ridiculous strikeout total (135) he returned a ton of value as a setup guy. The closer situation gets murkier in New York—Miller is another candidate to close, but on the other hand his signing might clear out Robertson, which might open the job to Betances, unless it opens it to Miller, etc. Simplifying, though, the Yankees signing competition for the job can only hurt Betances' overall fantasy value. —Mauricio Rubio
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Named Kevin Cash manager. [12/4]
Cash, the latest (and last) addition to the fraternity this winter, becomes the youngest manager in the league by two-and-a-half years and arrives in St. Pete without any previous captaining experience; you might call him green*. To his credit, he has coached and scouted in the past, with the Blue Jays and Indians, though that experience is limited to three seasons. Still, there are reasons to believe Cash can succeed right away.
*A fun fact unearthed by the Rays communication staff: Cash pitched one inning in the majors and allowed a double to his starting catcher, Ryan Hanigan.
Those familiar with Cash praise his communication skills—traits that will be tested if Yunel Escobar remains in town. Yet the rest of the roster comprises mostly low-beta players, so the clubhouse culture shouldn't be a problem that requires solving. Consider that part of how Cash differs from the normal rook skipper—he's taking over a roster that has won a lot of games in recent seasons. Additionally, Cash is inheriting a veteran-laden coaching staff. Tom Foley and George Hendricks are franchise mainstays, and Jim Hickey has become one as well. The Rays and Cash will need to agree on a new bench coach, with Dave Martinez bolting to Chicago, but that's the lone expected change. All that familiarity and continuity should help Cash make a quick transition.
Obviously Cash's in-game management is an unknown at this point. He did work for a progressive organization in Cleveland, and he'll have access to all the data he wants in St. Pete; his job, then, is to understand and implement those numbers. Other recent catcher-to-manager hires, like Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus, have seemed almost a beat slow in managing, as if they hadn't adjusted to the speed of the game from the dugout. Perhaps Cash's time spent as a bullpen coach will assist him in this regard. If not, expect Cash to become a scapegoat if the Rays falter late in the year or in the postseason.
Of course, whether Cash proves to be a good choice or not, the local media must be thrilled with his hiring, as he might be the easiest copy in the majors. Consider that he played for the Devil Rays; that he's from the Tampa area; that he attended Florida State University; that he was a non-drafted free agent who changed positions and still reached the majors at age 24; that he tallied more than 700 plate appearances despite a .185 True Average; and yes, that his name is incredibly headline- and quip-friendly. As far as the press is concerned, Cash is money. —R.J. Anderson
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