The Yankees continue to suffer on the west coast. On Saturday afternoon, the club dropped its fifth game in a row. Losing streaks happen, even prolonged ones, and they’re often the result of a confluence of factors. Batters go into slumps, defenders get jittery, and pitchers suddenly lose the ability to keep the ball in the park. Rarely can one pinpoint an exact cause to a rough patch. Yet, if there’s one thing this trip taught us, it’s that the team’s bullpen is not as deep as previously imagined.
Since arriving on the west coast, the Yankees relief corps has posted a 4.71 ERA with a .358 wOBA. They’ve held batters to a .282/.406/.422 batting line. Granted, 21 innings represents a fairly small sample size. The high profile nature of the meltdowns, however, directs attention to the bullpen.
A quick check of Twitter or the comment section speaks to the level of frustration fans have with the current crop of relievers. There’s no shortage of ire for Tyler Clippard or Jonathan Holder. Everyone also seems to know how to best use Dellin Betances. One theme stands out as particularly eye-catching, however. There exists a growing chorus of fans who think that the Yankees shouldn’t have traded Andrew Miller.
The left-handed relief ace is in the midst of another stellar campaign. He has a 1.56 ERA across 34.2 innings, with excellent peripherals. His 12.98 K/9 is slightly down from previous seasons, but that’s still a stellar mark. There have been some recent concerns about Miller pitching with diminished velocity, yet those are unfounded.
His fastball and slider have played to essentially the same level as when he was in New York. Miller would add to the Yankees bullpen in the sense that he would be an impact addition to every relief staff in baseball. He’s that good. He figures to be a multiple-win upgrade over current setup man Clippard. It’s not difficult to see why people — including myself — would pine for Miller.
At the same time, trading Miller to the Indians last summer was the right move. Brian Cashman made a tough decision in selling off a fan favorite super-reliever, but it made the most sense for the team. The Yankees acquired Clint Frazier, a top 30 prospect, and southpaw starter Justus Sheffield. They also picked up relief prospects Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. That’s not just a blockbuster, but a potential franchise altering exchange.
While some Yankees fans have been underwhelmed by Frazier, his numbers this season at Triple-A are spectacular. He’s hitting .260/.350/.494 with 12 home runs. Keep in mind he’s just 22 years old. He possess electric bat speed and is the type of talent the Yankees previously never had access to via the draft. Sheffield, a 21-year-old pitcher is also having a strong season at Double-A. He’s pitched to a 3.29 ERA over 68.1 innings for the Trenton Thunder. Those are great pieces around which a team can build.
It’s also important to remember that the Yankees made the call to trade Miller because they were looking to the future. The organization desperately lacked young talent, a problem that notably hampered the team from 2013 - 2016. Trading Miller offered the club a chance to reinvigorate the farm system and pave a road to future success. Plus, few could have expected the team to contend so quickly. Many figured that the next playoff caliber Yankees team would feature Frazier roaming the outfield.
In some ways, seller’s remorse is a fair response to the Miller deal. It’s especially poignant after a few notable bullpen blowups. The important thing to remember, however, is that the trade paved the way for the future. The loss hurt at the time, and it continues to sting, but the payoff figures to be worth it. I miss Miller as much as anyone, but soon we’ll reap the benefits, and hopefully they will last for years to come.