It's no secret that the Yankees stumbled out of the gate this season. Their pitchers could barely go five innings, the offense could barely score a run, and the front office seemingly had it out for the fans. Almost nothing was going right for the team, except for one shining light, the bullpen. Even before Aroldis Chapman returned, the bullpen was the beacon of light for a fading team. It just shone brighter once he arrived.
The last three years have been underwhelming for the Yankees as they missed the playoffs altogether in 2013 and 2014, and were one-and-done in 2015 after a Wild Card loss to the Astros. This degree of "failure" is quite the opposite from the constant success to which Yankee fans have become accustomed. The late nineties dynasty which carried into contending until 2012 have spoiled some into panicking at the first sign of trouble. Even after the Yankees made the playoffs last year, fans wanted to break the team down, sell off parts and get ready for the future.
The Yankees don't have many "parts" they could put up for sale. While it's nice to dream of getting rid of Jacoby Ellsbury's contract or Mark Teixeira's or Carlos Beltran, they have no-trade clauses attached to their contracts (albeit Beltran's is reportedly a limited NTC). Players such as Brett Gardner or Ivan Nova, who don't have these no-trade clauses, wouldn't really get the Yankees a great haul in return. Aroldis Chapman is a free agent at the end of the year so while he might net the team a solid return, it wouldn't be overwhelming. Andrew Miller, on the other hand, could potentially be a golden ticket.
After winning the AL Reliever of the Year award and converting 36 of 38 save opportunities in 2015, Miller proved he can be an elite closer. His $9 million per year salary is a bargain compared to the salaries of Chapman ($11.3 million), Craig Kimbrel ($11.2 million), David Robertson (sigh) ($11 million) and other high-end relievers/closers. Chapman, after this season, is expected to command more than Mariano Rivera's $15 million per year. And Miller's willingness to slide into the eighth inning for Chapman shows that he'd be a positive force any clubhouse would be lucky to have.
So it's not altogether crazy for the Yankees to at least consider trading Miller, is it? After seeing what the Phillies were able to rack up for Ken Giles from the Astros, fans are salivating at the thought of what Miller could bring back. As much as the thought of what the Yankees could get in return is exciting, however, the Yankees would be wrong to trade away Miller.
Let me start off by saying they shouldn't completely shut out the idea. If the GM version of Don Corleone calls and makes Brian Cashman "an offer he can't refuse," then the Yankees should consider trading Miller. But for a package that's just "very good" or even "great" instead of mind-blowing? I say hold on to him.
Buster Olney wrote a piece yesterday that covered Miller's potential destinations. It's an Insider piece, meaning it's behind a paywall, so I won't reveal everything in there, but one question really stands out:
What's his greatest value to the franchise?
Is it his relief work, being called on to pitch an inning three times every week?
Or is it as a trade chip, given the strong haul he would draw to the Yankees in the middle of a pennant race?
Sure, there's merit to both sides of the question, but the way this team is built, Miller's biggest value is to the team right now. Since 2011, the Yankees have had this foundation of a two-headed monster in the bullpen. With various combinations of Robertson, Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Betances, and Miller, the eighth and ninth innings have been covered for the Yankees. This year, they took it a step further by acquiring Chapman and having that monster grow a third head.
However, Chapman is only under contract for this season, and it's very likely the Yankees make him a qualifying offer and let him walk at the end of the year. When they let Robertson sign with the White Sox (re: sigh), they showed they'd like to a) save money and b) acquire draft pick compensation. Trading away Miller would defeat that objective as they would either resign Chapman so the cost would be significantly higher than Miller's, or they would go into 2017 with just Betances left from the big three. All of a sudden the bullpen goes from a strength to a question mark.
With their best in MLB 14-6 record from May 4th going into yesterday's game, the Yankees are showing that there's no reason they can't contend this year. With young exciting talent such as Aaron Judge and Greg Bird primed to take over starting roles on the 2017 team, there's no reason the Yankees won't be able to contend next year as well. Having a reliable bullpen goes a long way in ensuring their success, especially with the suspect starting pitching the Yankees are dealing with this year and next. Miller keeps the bullpen a strength.
Plus even though it's nowhere near as good as "Enter Sandman," Yankee fans have the delight of hearing "God's Gonna Cut You Down" in the ninth (or eighth right now) inning and getting a sense of comfort. That shouldn't be taken away from them.