Jon Lester isn’t the only left-handed pitcher on the Boston Red Sox who is about to hit free agency following his best season yet.
Andrew Miller, who has become an invaluable asset in the Red Sox’s bullpen, is slated to hit the open market this winter. Boston thus has an incredibly important decision to make — now and/or in the offseason — that could shape the future of the club’s entire relief corps.
Peter Gammons indicated Monday on WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan” that trade interest in Miller is strong, which is understandable given that he’s an impact lefty who still is just 29 years old. The Red Sox must decide whether to make the free agent-to-be available or keep him in the hopes of working out a new deal.
“I was told that, by far, the player the they’ve had the most calls on is Andrew Miller,” Gammons said. “I find it really hard to not give him the ($6 million-$7 million) that it’s going to take (to re-sign him) because that’s what the premier seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning guys get, and I think he’s really close to the point where he can close.”
If the Red Sox intend to contend this season, keeping Miller is a no-brainer. However, if Boston fails to make up ground before the July 31 trade deadline, the decision on whether to deal Miller becomes much more difficult, as it’s possible the Red Sox could score a good return for the hard-throwing lefty. The Red Sox need to determine their chances of re-signing Miller — a determination that considers his potential cost, his value to Boston, his desire to re-sign and his potential role moving forward.
Joe Smith’s three-year, $15.75 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels is a possible jumping-off point when it comes to Miller’s next contract, though the hurlers have drastically different track records. Smith has spent his entire career as a reliever — thriving most of the way — while Miller is a starter-turned-reliever who arrived in Boston as a reclamation project. Miller turned his career around in 2012 after switching to a relief role full-time.
Miller has struck out a career-high 14.4 batters per nine innings this season while issuing a career-low 2.8 walks per nine innings. His 5.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 0.95 WHIP are his best marks yet. Based on FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Miller is as valuable as Red Sox closer Koji Uehara — Miller, Uehara and St. Louis’ Pat Neshek all boast a 1.4 WAR, tying them for 10th among Major League Baseball relievers.
Speaking of Uehara, what’s to come of the 39-year-old? That’s another determination the Red Sox need to make because it could have huge ramifications on Miller’s future in Boston. The Red Sox, in all likelihood, will look to re-sign Uehara — another free agent-to-be — but Gammons’ insistence that Miller could close raises an interesting scenario that isn’t too far-fetched.
“He’s got strikeout ability,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Miller over the weekend. “That’s what allows him to shut down innings. He’s a closer in a certain sense in the seventh, eighth, whatever inning we call upon him with men in scoring position. The swing-and-miss ability is what allows him to be that type of pitcher.”
Farrell also mentioned Miller as a potential fill-in closer for Uehara back in spring training. Is it possible that Miller, who doesn’t have a single save in his nine-year career, could be viewed as a potential successor to Uehara? He’s certainly young enough and has the stuff, so the Red Sox will need to take a long, hard look at that possibility while assessing Miller’s future with the organization. Clearly, if that’s a legitimate option, keeping him and then re-signing him to a long-term deal this offseason is a must.
Miller, meanwhile, is focused on finishing the season on a strong note, though fully aware of what lies ahead.
“It’s hard not to think about (free agency) on occasion, but yeah, not really. I’m trying to focus on today and the hitter in front of me as much as I can,” Miller told NESN.com during the Red Sox’s series against the New York Yankees at the end of June. “Every now and then your mind scatters, but ideally, no. I’m just, like I said, focused on the task at hand. … (I try) to limit those distractions as much as I can and I think I’ll pitch better that way.”
Miller is pitching better than ever. His situation isn’t quite Lester’s, obviously, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.