Nearly a month into the 2015-2016 MLB offseason, things have been much quieter on the free agent front than in recent years. Despite this slow start on the free agent market, there has been plenty of news, rumors, and speculation to go around on the trade front. We have already seen several blockbuster trades, most specifically the trades of Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel to the Angels and Red Sox, respectively, as well as lots of speculation on other players who could be dealt this offseason. One interesting trade option that has been speculated on to an extent in the past few weeks is Shelby Miller.
Coming off a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Atlanta Braves last offseason, in exchange for right fielder Jason Heyward, it seems odd to think that Miller would once again be dealt this offseason. The Atlanta Braves, who are clearly in a rebuilding effort with an eye on 2017 or 2018 to return to contention, may not actually see Miller as part of those plans. Miller is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility this offseason and is not eligible to test the free agent market until 2019.
Despite the team-friendly contract and the overall good performance from Miller in his first season in Atlanta, it remains to be seen whether Miller is a part of the Braves long-term plans. Miller finished the 2015 season, his third full season in the Major Leagues, with an ERA of 3.02, an FIP of 3.45 and a WAR of 3.4. Based on this performance, and the three remaining years of team control, Miller would be a bright spot of any team’s rotation.
Despite the good numbers for 2015, 2016 projections don’t look great for Miller and the Braves may be doubting his ability. According to the 2016 Fangraphs Steamer projections, Miller is projected to pitch 187 innings next season with a 4.09 ERA, a 4.07 FIP, which is good for a 1.7 WAR. Baseball Reference’s Marcels Projection System on the other hand, projects Miller to pitch 181 innings with a 3.33 ERA. Obviously there is quite a discrepancy in these numbers, but either way it appears both projection systems see a regression in Miller’s immediate future. With these projections in mind, the Braves would be wise to sell high on Miller now, before he regresses any further or gets any closer to free agency.
So, if the Braves do decide that Miller is not a part of their long-term future and want to sell high on him, what does that kind of trade look like? When the Cardinals traded Miller last offseason, they got a major league talent who was entering the final year of his contract in return. One year removed from that trade, and coming off a relatively strong 2015 season, it seems likely that Miller’s value would be approximately on par with, or perhaps even better than, his value was last offseason. Even if the Braves are willing to keep Miller, they would be wise to at least test the market and see what kind of return they could possibly get.
The Braves have been stockpiling young pitching over the last several years, which may help them lean towards the possibility of trading Miller. Miller’s value seems to be as high as it has ever been and it would not be surprising to see him net at least one top 100, or perhaps even a top 50 prospect, with some minor pieces involved as well. There are plenty of teams, including the Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, and Cubs to name a few, looking for starting pitching with at least some prospect depth to get a deal done. Another interesting possibility, with a team looking for young starting pitching, is the Miami Marlins. The Marlins are looking to trade Ozuna for young pitching and the fit with the Braves seems like it could be a good one. The Braves would be selling high on a pitcher they don’t necessarily “need,” and would be able to get quite a decent return, perhaps even a major league ready player like Ozuna.
The Braves new front office, led by general manager John Coppolella, has made it rather clear that none of their current players are untouchable, as proven with the trade of Andrelton Simmons. If Simmons was expendable, then Coppolella should definitely be open to the possibility of trading Miller this offseason. If the Braves can get a top position-player prospect and some minor pieces in return for Miller, that’s probably a trade the Braves should make. It remains to be seen whether the Braves trade Miller, or if they even entertain the possibility at all. What is certain is the possibility is there, and it makes a whole lot of sense for the Braves long term rebuilding effort.