With the annual Winter Meetings less than two weeks away, MLB free agency is set to start heating up very soon. The Red Sox don't have much money to spend, but they've still been linked to a number of the most popular players available this offseason. One of the most polarizing players that the Red Sox could target is star reliever Andrew Miller.
Miller has been an MLB sensation over the past few seasons, particularly in the 2016 MLB postseason. With the Indians two best starting pitchers out with injuries heading into the ALDS, Cleveland used their bullpen as their secret weapon and Andrew Miller was the driving force. The Indians went all the way to Game 7 of the World Series with Andrew Miller carrying them as their best player. Miller won ALCS MVP for his incredible pitching and may have even won World Series MVP if things went the Indians' way in Game 7. Nevertheless, Miller's performance was remarkable and, along with the Royals stellar bullpen performance on their way to the 2015 World Series championship, changed the way that MLB teams viewed pitching in the playoffs.
Suddenly, bullpen pitching has become more relied upon then starting pitching in the postseason. In the 66 total pitching starts in the 2018 MLB postseason, the average length a starting pitcher went into a game was only 4.1 innings! That's not even long enough to be awarded a win if their team was up in the game. Of those 66 starts, do you know how many complete games there were? I'll save you the time to look it up. The answer is 0. A few playoff teams even went as far as having "bullpen games" where they wouldn't even use a starting pitcher and just went straight to their bullpen from the first pitch.
Clearly there's been a shift in the philosophy of how to win in the MLB postseason from the days when dominant starting pitching was needed to win a World Series. Now, teams rely on dominance and depth in their bullpen to win it all. That brings us to Andrew Miller.
With Miller hitting free agency this offseason, teams embracing the philosophy of building shutdown bullpens will be very interested in adding him to their roster. The Red Sox are stacked, but if they do have a weakness it would be in the bullpen. Joe Kelly, one of the Red Sox three most reliable relievers from last year's postseason, is a free agent and as is All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox solution to their bullpen worries in October of pitching starters in relief was a neat trick which they should try again next postseason, but they still need at least two quality pitchers to fill out the rest of their relief core. “The Rover” may help the Red Sox in the postseason, but it won't get them through the regular season and it won't even get them very far in the playoffs unless they have quality relievers for the rest of the 3.1 innings (on average) that relievers were tasked with last postseason.
So the Red Sox need bullpen help and they've been linked to Andrew Miller. Wouldn't it be a perfect fit?
… not exactly.
For a star player headed for free agency, Andrew Miller didn't exactly have a “contract year” this past season. Miller's ERA went from being under 2.05 for 4 straight years to a putrid 4.24 last season. Miller is also set to turn 34 years old next season. Usually players over-perform in their contract years in preparation for a big contract (see: Nathan Eovaldi, Steve Pearce). The fact that Miller had such a poor season heading into free agency is a huge red flag and judging by his current age, there's a good chance he's over the hill. Andrew Miller just isn't the same player anymore. Despite that, he'll likely still carry the same price tag of an elite reliever based on past performance and name recognition alone. Someone is going to get duped into paying a once-great pitcher past his prime, but it shouldn't be the Red Sox.
The Red Sox certainly need to add relief pitching help this offseason to replace the holes that Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel will leave on the roster if they sign elsewhere in free agency, but they shouldn't take a chance on a washed up "has been" like Andrew Miller.
Photo: (Matt Slocum - AP Photo)