Jim Miller is a professional baseball player and has been since the 2004 season, when he was drafted in the eighth round. Over the years I had seen Jim play probably four or five times, but our paths had never crossed until two weeks ago. Today, Jim Miller is a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, on a minor-league invite that I negotiated one week ago. This is the story of how I came to be Jim’s agent and got him a major-league invite in what was, for me at least, record time.
Some background. Jim was a three-time minor-league all-star for the Rockies, until Colorado sent him to the Orioles as the main prospect in the Rodrigo Lopez trade. Jim eventually made his big-league debut with the Orioles on Sept. 1, 2008. His role in history: Jim hit the last batter in old Yankee Stadium, and of course it was Derek Jeter. So if baseball doesn’t work out, at least he can sign autographs for the rest of his life with that inscription: “Last guy to hit a guy with a pitch in…” Jim then went back to Colorado in 2011 and got back to the big leagues that September. He signed with Oakland the next year and, in 2012, had a very good major-league season with the A’s, posting career-bests across the board. After the season he was taken of the roster for reasons I cannot speak to and was claimed by the Yankees. He spent a short time in the big leagues in 2013 and 2014.
Jim went into last offseason as an older free agent, and with a bit over one full year of service time. He’ll turn 33 this year but he still throws really hard (93/95 mph). As an agent, I would say looking at that guy that it wouldn’t have been hard to guess he’d find a club to play for in 2015. However, for one reason or another Jim did not get a job. Not when free agency opened, not at the winter meetings, not during the last wave of free agency—throughout, literally nothing popped up. After the 2012 season, Asia could have been a terrific landing spot for him, but I didn;t work for him or even know him, so, again, my perspective on that is limited.
That brings us to now. To quote Spaceballs, “Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now, what happened to then? We passed then. When? Just now. We’re at now now.” Jim played with one of my clients, David Herndon, the past two seasons in Scranton/WIlkes-Barre of the International League. After getting to know Jim a little bit, and having known David for a decade, I can safely say why they are friends. Both are straight shooters and terrific family men. David signed with the Brewers in February, at which point I thought I was done with free agency. But a couple weeks ago David called me and asked me to talk to his friend. Friend of David, friend of mine. No problem.
When Jim, called my heart broke for the predicament he was in. This was a guy in crisis, and despite my absolutely loathing to jump back into free agency I decided this was the kind of person I was looking for. His age didn't worry me, his ability didn’t worry me (he’s very good), and I was perplexed how a guy who spent parts of the past four seasons in the major leagues and hasn’t spent any time on the DL since 2006 couldn’t have even a minor-league job. I was dead honest as usual: I told Jim that this late into free agency this project could take time. Months, even, and I wanted to be sure he wasn’t going to give up on playing if it dragged on. Hilariously, he asked the same of me.
I called team after team to pretty much the same answer. I’d relay that he had great reports, a good arm, is a great teammate, an excellent Triple-A pitcher with a chance to play in the big leagues, but the regular reply kept coming: “We’re just full.” Which is fair this late into free agency.
Now let me segue for a second. I had a very prominent sportswriter ask me a couple weeks ago whether the job of an agent has changed in the past few years thanks to the rise of analytics in front offices. Absolutely. Years ago, an agent could maybe change a ballclub’s mind about a player, whereas there is no chance of that happening now (in my opinion). Teams will always trust their staff before an agent, and it would be damned near impossible to change a team’s mind about your client if it has bad reports on him. Trust me, I’ve gone through this enough. My job has evolved from “selling” a guy to trying to match my client with the best possible fit. Sure, some salesmanship goes into things, but if a club says “no” you can only be persistent to a point.
Flash-forward to a few days ago. I was watching TV and I saw that Ronald Belisario had one of the most freak injuries ever. The poor guy slipped out of a pool and got injured. As soon as I saw that I reached out to Tampa Bay, and after a few days deal was done. I can’t get into details, obviously, but it was a fair negotiation. So much of this job is about money, but this one was much more about a good thing happening for a good person. Jim told me that one of his career aspirations was to play long enough that his child will remember him being a professional baseball player. I really did shed a tear. I’m not a robot. I was Jim’s agent for nine days but I worked so hard to treat him like a guy I had had for nine years.
So now Jim is in big-league camp with the Rays with a chance to win a job out of spring. Will it be easy? No. Is it a headline-grabbing move? No. However, Jim Miller is a real person with a real family, and as far as the personal side of this job goes it simply doesn’t get any better than this. One of my mentors, Murray Cook, the former GM of the Expos and Yankees, had the nickname “Second Chance” Murray. I’d like to have a moniker like that some day. I’ve said it before: You don’t give up on good people. Even though our courtship was quick, I know Jim Miller is a good person, and a darned good ballplayer. He caught a break—no pun intended—but we also put in a ton of work, and with that combination he gets another year in the sun. I couldn’t be more proud to be an agent, and especially to be Jim Miller’s agent.
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