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Should the Oakland A’s pursue Shelby Miller?

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Oakland has talked with the pitcher, reports Ben Ross of NBCS.

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

There’s yet another new name to add to the list of targets for the Oakland A’s rotation. The team has “had talks” with free agent pitcher Shelby Miller, reports Ben Ross of NBCS.

The A’s are casting a wide net in their search for starters. They’ve been publicly connected with several free agents already, including Matt Harvey (analysis), Clay Buchholz (analysis), Gio Gonzalez (Slusser link), and their own recently departed arms (Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson). Now Miller is on the radar as well, at least enough to have been in contact with the club once at some point, and there are sure to be more names to come. Oakland could also go the trade route, with Sonny Gray (analysis) as a prime candidate.

The running theme of that list is veterans who offer strong upside but come discounted due to glaring flaws, and Miller fits those criteria with flying colors. There’s rock bottom, and then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there is the place where Miller’s career currently resides.

The right-hander began his pro journey as one of the best prospects in the sport. He was a 1st-round pick by the Cardinals in 2009 and quickly found himself on national Top 100 lists, reaching as high as No. 5 in the country a few years later. He debuted in the bigs at age 21 and enjoyed a couple nice seasons for St. Louis, looking for all the world like an up-and-coming star.

Then it all went wrong. Miller was traded to a rebuilding Braves team in a blockbuster swap for outfielder Jason Heyward, an even bigger budding star. Miller responded with the best campaign of his career in 2015, featuring 200 innings, nice numbers across the board, and an All-Star berth, but with his teammates offering no help he led the majors with 17 losses.

Next came the trade that currently defines his legacy until further notice. Atlanta flipped him to the D’Backs in one of the biggest fleecings in recent memory, one which probably helped cost Dave Stewart his job as Arizona’s GM. The Snakes received three years of control over Miller, but the Braves got a package highlighted by top overall draft pick Dansby Swanson and CF dynamo Ender Inciarte. The deal was universally mocked, and that was before Miller spectacularly exploded. His three seasons in Arizona:

2016: 6.15 ERA in 101 innings, and sent down to the minors for over a month
2017: After four starts, went down with Tommy John surgery
2018: Returned for four awful starts, then back to DL, then one final September appearance

Woof. On the bright side for the D’Backs, the time spent in the minors paused his service clock enough to earn an extra year of team control. However, with an estimated price tag of $5 million and the club deciding to launch a rebuild, they made an easy call to non-tender him. Now he’s a free agent.

Where does all that leave us today? The first important note is that his UCL is fine, and the aftershock DL stint this past summer was just due to inflammation. His velocity was also as hot as it’s ever been, averaging 95 mph and topping out at 97. Of course, getting his health back in order is only the first step, considering he began struggling on the mound a full year before TJS, but if he does fully return to form then this is the kind of upside he’s shown in the past:

Miller, 2015 ATL: 3.02 ERA, 205⅓ ip, 171 Ks, 73 BB, 13 HR, 3.45 FIP

Does he still have that in him? He’s only 28 years old, and if the concept of a change of scenery ever applied to anyone it would be this guy. His experience in Arizona has been a nightmare in every way, and the team’s fans were more than ready to move on from his painful memory. Maybe it’ll go better somewhere else?

For the A’s, this would be an even bolder gamble than the other pitchers we’ve talked about. Sonny has been bad in New York but at least stayed healthy; Buchholz gets hurt all the time but at least he was good last year whilst on the mound; and Harvey already put up his initial bounce-back season after his own long-term injury issues. But Miller is a total shot in the dark, a combo of chronic underperformance and surgery, with no redeeming qualities on his recent resume except for the allure of dormant potential.

On the other hand, all of that bad news means the price will be next to nothing. His previous team turned him down at 1yr/$5M, so presumably he can be had even cheaper than that. If the A’s think there’s something there, and that Miller has a reasonable chance of getting his groove back, then go for it. For a player like this, where all the pertinent info is behind closed doors and within private medical records, all we can do is sit back and trust the team to make a smart decision. After all, nobody is better at evaluating scrap-heap, injury-prone, veteran bounce-back pitchers than the A’s.

Poll

Should the A’s gamble on Shelby Miller?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    Yes. The upside is worth it on a one-year deal.
    (376 votes)
  • 18%
    No. Save money for more guaranteed innings.
    (87 votes)
463 votes total Vote Now