Alright, I've got a week left to finish this series before we put our full focus into forgetting 2014 ever happened and previewing the rest of the upcoming season. Next is No. 49, Brad Mills.
Name: Brad Mills, aka Buck, or Dolla Dolla Mills Y'all
Position: LHP, starting
Stats: 3 starts, 4.41 ERA, 16⅓ innings, 14 Ks, 7 BB, 2 HR
WAR: negative-0.1 bWAR, 0.0 fWAR
How he got here: Acquired from Milwaukee Brewers on June 17*
2014 Salary: It's more fun if you pretend he only made $1
2015 Status: Pre-arbitration, under team control
2015 Salary: Salary not readily available (likely a portion of MLB minimum) (probably got a raise to $2, amirite?)
* for literally one dollar ($1)
In early June, the Oakland A's rotation was running on literal smoke and mirrors that someone had found stored under the Coliseum (actually, they found the smoke in the third-deck bathroom). They were already down Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin due to injury, and Dan Straily had been demoted in May due to being terrible. The rotation included the long reliever from 2013 (Jesse Chavez) and the long reliever from early 2014 (Drew Pomeranz), and the plan was to just hope that Tommy Milone would keep pitching like a No. 2/3 starter.
On June 16, Pomeranz picked a fight with a chair and lost, and he went on the DL with a fractured ego (and hand). There was no one else left to turn to, as the depth had been taxed. Straily had just flamed out a month earlier. Josh Lindblom was already on the way to his own season-ending injury. Arnold Leon was doing nothing to earn a look. ESPN wanted too much to trade Dallas Braden back to the team (Ken Korach plus an intern to be named later), and the trade market for top starters wouldn't open for at least a couple more weeks.
Billy Beane needed a band-aid, and because he's Billy Beane he didn't go to Safeway and buy an expensive name brand. No, he went to the Dollar Store down the street and found something that wasn't as proven but would still get the job done until the hole could be fixed. In literal terms, he acquired unknown lefty Brad Mills from the Milwaukee Brewers for cash considerations. That cash turned out to amount to one whole American dollar. Buck Mills was born.
Mills was the definition of a replacement-level player. He was easily acquired for virtually nothing when the team had a need at his position, and in over 50 MLB innings he'd accrued an fWAR of 0.0 (despite a 7.76 ERA and a more negative review from bWAR). This was the fictional player who your team could bring up from the minors at any time, but he was right here in the flesh. Even his scouting report sounded generic: a soft-tossing lefty with an interesting curveball. A junkballer.
But Mills seemed to be on to something in the minors. After being plagued by homers for years, he had reined them in a bit in 2013 and was off to a helluva start in 2014. Through 14 games, he had a 1.56 ERA, a strikeout per inning, a career-low walk rate, and only five dingers allowed. He was a 29-year-old beating up on minor league kids, but at least he was the one winning the fight. After short, mostly crappy stints in MLB with the Blue Jays and Angels each season from 2009-12, Mills was ready to test himself on the biggest stage for the first time in two years.
His first start came against Boston on June 20. The Red Sox were below .500 at the time, but this was before we knew that they were going to stay that way all year. Mills struck out the side in the first, sealing it off by getting David Ortiz to watch a curve for strike three. Boston got to him eventually, largely thanks to the four walks he allowed and some shoddy defense behind him, but he made it through four innings and the score was tied when he left. He quite literally put the team in a position to win, a feat they achieved, 4-3, thanks to five scoreless innings of relief from the pen. His stat line wasn't great and probably looked negative overall, but in the context of the situation it was all the A's needed at a moment when all other emergency options were probably worse.
In his next start, he faced the New York Mets. This time, the A's handed him a 6-0 lead right off the bat by jumping all over opposing starter Zack Wheeler. With the big cushion to work with, Mills was able to settle in and cruise, and as a result he carried a shutout into the seventh inning. His magic eventually ran out and he was chased by Lucas Duda's three-run homer, but the game was more or less over by that point and Mills had already done his job beyond any reasonable expectation. The A's won again.
His final start came in Detroit. He turned in the definition of an average start -- 6 innings, 3 runs, 6 Ks, 3 walks, 6 hits, 1 homer. That is the most run-of-the-mills, boring, mundane pitching line I can imagine. And it only cost $1 to acquire, plus a portion of the MLB minimum in salary. If you could have that performance out of your fifth starter every time through the rotation, you would take that deal in a heartbeat; teams pay way more than that for way worse production, whereas I don't think you can pay less for a player than Oakland did for Mills. Unfortunately, Rick Porcello was decidedly better than average that day, and his four-hit, 95-pitch shutout rendered the identity of Oakland's pitcher completely moot. But hey, Mills still ate some inning without embarrassing the colors.
Three starts by Mills, and the A's won two of them. And in the one they lost, they were shut out by the opponent, so it hardly even counts against him. Yeah, I'll buy that for a dollar.
Once July hit, Beane was able to search for more reliable long-term replacements. Mills was fun for a minute, but no one was counting on him to lead the team to (or through) the playoffs. When the Shark trade went down, Mills was a roster casualty to make room for some new faces. It didn't matter, though. His job in Oakland was done, with the short-term hole patched long enough to properly repair, and in return he'd received a chance to showcase his skills to the rest of the league. Now everyone knew that Brad Mills could retire a Major League lineup, at least some of the time. Everybody won in this brief marriage. Even the Brewers got a free soda out of the deal.
Mills resurfaced in Toronto, where he made two relief appearances and managed to allow 13 total runs -- that's more than he gave up in three starts for the A's. It was a blessing in disguise, though, because with his flavor-of-the-month status expired the A's were able to re-sign him this winter. Buck is back, baby.
2014 season grade, relative to expectations: B+ ... He was supposed to be a scrub, but instead he threw two quality starts in three tries. When you win 2-of-3 with your emergency replacement starter (and because of him, not in spite of him), he exceeded expectations. He could have earned an A by doing enough to stick in the rotation long-term.
2014 season grade, overall: C- ... He's still a literal replacement-level player. Note that a player can be much, much worse than that.
Mills struck out the first batter he faced as an Athletic. Take a look at this absolutely gorgeous curveball. He later froze Big Papi with the same pitch.
Here's a longer look at Mills, in his start against the Mets. Note that he strikes out David Wright twice.
If you were concerned about the amount of hard contact in that last clip, there is way less of it in his start against the Tigers.
And, just for fun, here is Mills batting against the Mets. He's a right-handed hitter! Sure, he hits into a double play here, but even his GIDP turned into a run.
Mills is back in the organization, which means it's possible we could see him again in 2015. It's unlikely with the current depth chart so loaded, but we learned last year that depth can disappear in an instant. Mills was cut from big league camp on Sunday and will open in Triple-A, but if the A's need an emergency spot start and don't want to bother the youngsters who are marinating in Nashville, Mills will be only a phone call away.