Earlier this week, the Yankees designated relief pitcher Ben Heller for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for newly-signed Darren O’Day. While the move on its own is hardly noteworthy, as Heller has only pitched 31 innings throughout his five-year career, it does represent a key moment in the old Andrew Miller trade — outfielder Clint Frazier is now the only player involved in the deal who still remains in either New York or Cleveland.
With this idea in mind, as well as the fact that the five-year anniversary of what was expected to be a franchise-altering trade will be coming up this July, it seemed like a good time to revisit the trade, and see how things ultimately shook out.
Although we’ll be focusing primarily on the return that the Yankees received, I just wanted to say a few words on Miller’s performance for Cleveland. Following the trade, he pitched two and a half seasons by the shores of Lake Erie, posting a 2.22 ERA (2.30 FIP) and being named to the 2017 All-Star team.
Serving primarily in a “fireman” role, Miller was a core piece of the team that won the American League pennant in 2016. He was dynamic in the playoffs, as he went unscored upon until Game 6 of the World Series, an 8-game, 15-inning stretch of dominance with 27 strikeouts that helped him earn ALCS MVP honors.
Cleveland won an AL-best 102 games the following year, too, although Yankees fans will likely find the home run that Greg Bird hit off of Miller in Game 3 of the ALDS that year to be the highlight of his time in Cleveland. Overall, however, Cleveland pretty much got what it paid for with Miller. He signed with the Cardinals in free agency after the 2018 season and has been there ever since.
When the Yankees acquired Heller, he came with a lot of hype relative to what a reliever prospect typically receives — a Q&A with Lets Go Tribe following the trade said that he was expected to be a future setup man or closer. The early returns seemed to point in that direction, for although a cup of coffee in 2016 was forgettable, he gave up only one run in 11 innings in 2017 (along with a 0.976 WHIP and 13.1 K/9 at Triple-A Scranton). Unfortunately, on April 6, 2018, he underwent Tommy John surgery, and entering his age-29 season, has thus far only pitched 23 games over the last two seasons, split between Scranton and the Bronx; additionally, a biceps nerve injury cut his 2020 even shorter.
Ultimately, the lack of a minor league season last year really harmed Heller, as the team obviously felt that they cannot rely on him for significant innings after not pitching a full season since 2017.
Heller was not the only prospect brought aboard who was destined for the bullpen. Feyereisen had been similarly hyped within the article linked above. He sped through the farm system, having reached Double-A at the time of the trade by the age of 23. He continued to pitch well with the Yankees, but was stuck in Scranton through no fault of his own — he posted a 3.45 and 2.49 ERA in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Eventually, since Feyereisen was about to become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if he wasn’t promoted, the Yankees sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for 16-year-old shortstop Brenny Escanio and international bonus pool money. He made his MLB debut in 2020, recording a 5.76 ERA in 9.1 innings of work.
There is perhaps no player in this deal more difficult to analyze than Sheffield. Immediately after the Yankees acquired him, he became the team’s top pitching prospect as a 20-year-old. After coming to the Yankees, he continued to methodically rise through the minor leagues, making his Major League debut at the age of 22 out of the bullpen as a September call-up in 2018. At the time, there were some questions as to whether he was destined for a job as a starter or in the bullpen, with his ceiling widely considered to be as a mid-rotation starter with upside.
Looking to improve the rotation for 2019, the Yankees packaged Sheffield with Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams to acquire James Paxton, a move that looked great at the time and throughout 2019, but resulted in a lost 2020. Sheffield has done about the opposite, notching a solid 3.58 ERA in 10 starts in 2020 after failing to impress as a rookie in 2019.
The only one still in pinstripes, Frazier’s story is familiar to readers here at Pinstripe Alley. Subject to “controversies” (primarily about his hair, but also about alleged comments about Mickey Mantle’s No. 7) before even making his debut in the Bronx, Frazier showed promise in limited action in 2017, although it looked like he needed a bit more time in the minors. A concussion turned 2018 into a lost year for him, and then defensive woes — combined with a less-than-stellar relationship with the media and a hyper-focus on the fact that he used his union-negotiated time to report to Scranton after being demoted — left a sour taste in many fans’ mouths despite a solid year at the plate.
In 2020, however, Frazier took advantage of numerous injuries, including a defensive performance that improved to such an extent he was nominated for a Gold Glove. He seized a starting job, leading all Yankees outfielders in hitting with a 149 OPS+ in 39 games. Frazier projects to be the Yankese’ Opening Day left fielder in 2021.
In many ways, the trade has already been fairly successful for both teams, as the Yankees were able to turn Sheffield into a solid veteran pitcher who was under team control for two years, and Feyereisen into international bonus pool money (and we all know how important international amateur free agents are to the Yankees’ farm system). Should Frazier build on his 2020 season and establish himself among the upper ranks of Major League outfielders, then the trade will become the franchise-altering deal that many expected it to be when the deal went down five years ago.