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25 Smartest Moves of the Past 25 Years: Yankees sign Andrew Miller

Miller was a strikeout machine before being dealt for prospects in 2016.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When Andrew Miller signed a four-year contract with the Yankees in December 2014, his career revival as a relief pitcher was still fairly new. The sixth overall pick of the 2006 MLB draft, Miller never could figure it out as a starting pitcher, but after the moving to the bullpen as a member of the Red Sox in 2012, he found that his slider could be unhittable. He was sensational as an Orioles trade deadline acquisition in 2014, and while he didn’t have the classic closer pedigree, he was expected to do well on the free agent market.

Upon signing with New York on the exact same day as another of the Yankees’ 25 smartest moves since 1997, Miller reached even greater heights, putting up the best numbers of his career and becoming known for his versatility. Although he would only spend about a season and a half with the Yankees before being traded to Cleveland, Miller’s contract with an absolute steal based on his pure production in the Bronx.

Signing Details: Signed Andrew Miller to a 4-year, $36 million contract

Transaction Date: December 5, 2014

NYY stats: 144 appearances, 106.1 innings, 1.71 ERA, 1.97 FIP, 0.81 WHIP, 14.94 K/9, 3.9 fWAR

At the time of the signing, the Yankees’ pursuit of Miller was considered a cheaper alternative to re-signing incumbent closer David Robertson. The homegrown righty would eventually receive $10 million more from the Chicago White Sox for far less production than Miller would provide (and ended up back in New York a little over halfway through the contract anyway).

Even with the dominant Dellin Betances in house, skipper Joe Girardi tabbed Miller as his closer for the 2015 campaign. The 6-foot-7 lefty quickly quelled any doubts about this decision, as he was nothing less than arguably the best relief pitcher in the American League.

Miller began the season with 17.3 straight scoreless innings. Opponents batted .092 against his slider. He was named an All-Star for the first time, received Cy Young Award votes, and won the Mariano Rivera Award as the AL’s top reliever. It was simply one of the best seasons that a reliever has ever had in pinstripes. For some more recent context, he had a better K/9 (14.6) in 2015 than Jacob deGrom did in 2021 for the Mets.

Unfortunately, the season ended with the disappointing Wild Card Game loss to Houston, where Miller pitched the only playoff inning he would ever for the Yankees. It’s not hard to imagine what a dominant Miller could have done for a lengthy playoff run, as he demonstrated the very next year, albeit in another city.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees decided to keep adding to the bullpen depth before the 2016 by acquiring Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds, then naming him the team’s closer before spring training even started. Still, Miller did not complain about not being the official closer (though he did stints when Chapman was out of action). The two of them, plus Betances, provided the makings of dominant bullpen.

Unfortunately, the team’s overall struggles in 2016 eventually led to the pairing with Miller to be cut short — and the unceremonious end of the briefly titled “No Runs DMC” bullpen. Miller himself was not part of the problem, as he posted 77 strikeouts in 45.1 innings pitched, and had a 96.7 left on base percentage. But these underwhelming Yankees were clearly not bound for the playoffs, and the teams that were would pay a haul for a reliever of his caliber.

A few days after Chapman was sent to Chicago for a quartet of players highlighted by 19-year-old Gleyber Torres, Miller was dealt to Cleveland for a package that looked massive for a reliever — at the time. Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield were each seen as top prospects, and to get both in a trade was considered a coup, even for Miller. Cleveland never regretted it though, as Miller would continue his strong pitching for a team that made it within one win of a World Series title. Throughout that playoff run, he earned admiration and praise for his willingness to pitch in any inning, early or late.

Miller would be dominant again in 2017 (minus a home run allowed to Greg Bird in the playoffs, of course), but the timing of the trade was likely shrewd, as his season-by-season WAR has massively gone down since then as injuries have taken a bit of a toll. Still, he remains a fan favorite and a respected clubhouse voice. Even now, Miller is one of the MLBPA’s most well-known figures in CBA negotiations.

Just based on his performance, Miller’s stint as a Yankee could not have gone any better. It was a run the likes of which teams would likely pay double for these days than what New York actually did. Although it’s disappointing that the the teams he played on didn’t have more success around him, his contract was a steal that Brian Cashman can hang his hat on.