MLB hot stove: Free agent Andrew Miller reportedly has a clean bill of health after injury-plagued season

A year ago at this time lefty reliever Andrew Miller would’ve been one of the most coveted free agents on the market. He certainly would’ve been the most coveted reliever in free agency, ahead of guys like Wade Davis and Brandon Morrow. Miller has been excellent the last few years and is very well respected within baseball.

This year, Miller is something of an unknown heading into free agency, as injuries and occasional ineffectiveness dogged his 2018 season. He was limited to 34 innings this past season, and, in those 34 innings, Miller had a 4.24 ERA (104 ERA+) and a 1.38 WHIP. Miller did strike out 45 batters, but clearly, that is not the same Andrew Miller we watched from 2014-17.

A hamstring injury sidelined Miller for about two weeks early in the season. That’s no big deal. Minor hamstring pulls happen. The larger concerns are the left shoulder impingement he dealt with in August and September, and the ongoing right knee trouble that dates back to 2017. At one point, the Indians even sent Miller to see the doctors with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers about the knee.

The injuries and decline in performance have cast a cloud over Miller’s free agency, but, according to his agent Mark Rodgers, Miller recently received a clean bill of health. Here’s what Rodgers told Joel Sherman of the New York Post:

One of his representatives, Mark Rodgers, said fully (healthy) and that they have the documentation to show that from a full workup done by Dr. David Altchek. That physician should matter because he is the Mets team doctor. 

“Altchek saw absolutely nothing that would keep him from being the old Andrew Miller,” Rodgers said Monday at the general managers’ meetings. 

Interested teams will of course have their doctors check Miller out before signing him to a contract (pre-signing physicals are standard for free agents), so, while it’s good Altchek and Rodgers say he’s healthy, teams are going to want to find out for themselves. They want to make sure they’re getting an able-bodied pitcher and not someone on the cusp of breaking down.

Also, keep in mind money may not be the deciding factor for Miller in free agency. Yes, this is likely his last chance at a big payday, but Miller did turn down more money from the Astros to sign with the Yankees four years ago. He prioritized comfort and his fit with the team over dollars. That could happen again this year, and who knows what Miller’s priorities are? Everyone is different. Making the largest offer may not be the key to landing him.

From the teams’ perspective, the best move may be to add Miller to an already deep bullpen rather than bringing him in and expecting him to be The Man at the end of the games. That way, if he’s no longer the Andrew Miller of 2014-17, it doesn’t cripple the bullpen. Teams with strong bullpens like the Yankees, Astros, and Brewers could try to sell Miller on the idea of joining a contending team and just being one of the guys rather than the bullpen headliner. 

The free agent market is pretty well stacked with big name relievers. In addition to Miller there’s Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Adam Ottavino, Kelvin Herrera, and many others. And, as poorly as free agency played out for the players last year, relievers still got paid. Davis, Morrow, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, and others all cashed in nicely. I see no reason to believe that will change this year. Relievers are always in demand.

Given his track record and the perpetual demand for high-end bullpen help, I suspect Miller will have little trouble landing a sizable contract this winter, even with the injuries this year. The contract just might be as sizable as it would’ve seemed a year ago, when Miller was looking like a $17 million a year reliever a la Davis, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen.

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