Why You Don’t Trade Brad Miller
Oh, you can trade Brad Miller for Steven Souza. That’s fine. That’s filling a need. You can trade Brad Miller in a good trade. A good trade probably involves a long-term piece coming back. I don’t like the idea of discarding Miller for a year or two of a guy. I’ll go on to explain! This post is not over.
Right now there are two Mariner trade pieces that get talked about. You’ve got the Mariners trading Taijuan Walker, or you’ve got the Mariners trading Brad Miller. Maybe you’ve got the Mariners trading them both! But those are the two, as rumors circle that the M’s want a right fielder or something else. There are six team-controlled years of Taijuan Walker to look forward to. Brad Miller, five years. That’s one fewer year, but then Walker’s more likely to miss a full year because something got achy. And I don’t want to trade either one.
It isn’t true that Miller is redundant. Chris Taylor hasn’t proven anything. He certainly hasn’t proven more than Brad Miller has. And while Baseball America is apparently pretty high on Ketel Marte, I wouldn’t bet five dollars on Ketel Marte ever hitting, so what appears like three upper-level shortstops is really maybe one or none combined. If the season were to start today, you’d probably have Taylor starting at short most games. What do you do with Miller? That’s where the fun begins.
Shannon wrote the other day about how the Mariners and some other teams occasionally see Miller as an outfielder. He has a tiny bit of practice experience out there and the reviews were generally positive. We all know he can run, and while there are concerns about both his throwing accuracy and his footwork, it’s funny what happens when you move to the lawn. You don’t have to switch so much between long strides and choppy steps, and when you’re throwing, you get to set your feet without throwing off balance or while moving in the other direction. Brad Miller could very well be a big-league shortstop, but he also has the tools to be a big-league outfielder. And because of his speed, he has the tools to be a big-league center fielder.
So now let’s think about this. The Mariners don’t just need one outfielder. They need two outfielders, unless you believe in James Jones or Stefen Romero. And it’s by no means a sure thing that Willie Bloomquist will be 100% around the start of the year, given what he went through. If the Mariners were to trade Miller for an outfielder, they need an outfielder. If they were to end up with an outfielder, Miller could work as another one. Or Miller could even be the main guy.
The Mariners say they want a righty or a switch-hitter, and that’s why they’re focused, apparently, on Melky Cabrera. That’s all fine. If they don’t trade for Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, they could just sign Cabrera. Or they could sign Alex Rios. Or they could swing a little trade for, say, Justin Ruggiano or Marlon Byrd or Drew Stubbs or, god help us, Dayan Viciedo. Depending on the ability of the outfielder brought in, you’d determine how much outfield time Miller could get. But Miller can serve in a useful, versatile role in 2015, and then he could be of great use down the road.
For next year, if the Mariners found a right fielder without trading Miller, Miller could be a dual fourth outfielder and backup to the infield backup. It helps to have Nelson Cruz at least not literally incapable of handling an outfield corner. Miller would make for good depth and also valuable Taylor insurance in case he has a rough go of things. Crucially, Miller will cost barely more than the league minimum. As you pile up contracts like Felix’s, Cano’s, and Cruz’s, you have an increasing need for cheap regulars, even if they aren’t particularly great.
And at issue here isn’t just 2015. The Mariners’ center fielder is Austin Jackson. Jackson is lined up to be not the Mariners’ center fielder in 2016. Which is a problem, because the Mariners don’t have a center fielder in the system. Alex Jackson is super neat, but he’s probably not a center fielder. Austin Wilson is only a little less neat, but he’s not a center fielder. James Jones might be a center fielder, but he isn’t and won’t be a good one. There’s no reason for me to bring up Jesus Montero in this paragraph but boy has that guy sucked. The Mariners absolutely aren’t making moves right now for the sake of 2016 and beyond, but there’s a compelling argument to be made that the Mariners’ long-term center fielder, after Jackson, could be Brad Miller. I have to think he’s good enough to handle the responsibilities, and so, how eager should one be to see Miller get dealt?
If you take Miller away from short, for the most part, it will do a number on his trade value, but at the same time, not everyone is convinced that Miller is a long-term shortstop anyhow. And if Miller were to end up in center field, he’d preserve a lot of that value, because that’s a crucial up-the-middle position. You groom him for a Zobrist kind of role in 2015, and then from there you groom him to move into the middle. That is, if he’s hitting. And that is, if Chris Taylor is good enough. You like Miller as short-term insurance, and you like Miller as a long-term solution to a looming problem.
There are long-term young assets here. Taijuan Walker. James Paxton. Roenis Elias. Mike Zunino. Miller and Taylor. Others, maybe. One hopes that D.J. Peterson will shortly join them, as well as Patrick Kivlehan and so on and so forth. But Nelson Cruz is going to get worse as he stays just as expensive. Robinson Cano isn’t getting any better, probably. There’s a truth about Felix Hernandez I’d prefer not to acknowledge. The Mariners seem to have more money than ever, but they still have limitations, so if you have a player with five controlled years left who can help you now and who could conceivably help you at a position of need a year down the road, is that really a player to lose? Is that really a player to lose for, say, a three-win player for one year, when Miller himself might be something like a two-win player?
It’s great to see the Mariners building for the season just ahead. They’re good, and they could do great things. What you don’t do, though, is borrow too heavily from the future for the sake of loading up for one or two runs. If you can trade Miller for a Miller-like asset somewhere else, I can take it. But why would you want to trade him for something else? Brad Miller might not be the Mariners’ shortstop, but the thing about an athletic young shortstop like him is he can be an athletic young whatever you want.*
* maybe even a shortstop