It’s been a hell of a 24 hours for the Indians. They had a deal in place with the Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy, and then Lucroy used his partial no-trade clause to nix the deal. In between, however, they launched a fadeaway three from center court. Cleveland has acquired uber-reliever Andrew Miller from the Yankees in exchange for four prospects.
The move represents a seismic shift for both franchises. For the Indians, it’s very simple.
Miller represents a mammoth addition at the back of the bullpen. If he’s the closer, everyone moves up a slot and the current back-end pitchers can be used earlier in games in potential high-leverage situations. If not, he can be deployed as a whenever-wherever fireman who’s placed on the mound when the need is most dire. He would also be the man tasked with getting tough lefty hitters (Anthony Rizzo, David Ortiz, Nomar Mazara, etc.) late in the game.
Prior to the acquisition of Miller, Kyle Crockett was the lone southpaw in the Cleveland bullpen. Crockett has thrown only 7.2 innings so far this year, and because of that his ghastly 7.36 ERA should be taken with a whole shaker of salt. Over 55 career innings prior to his outing on Sunday, Crockett had pitched to a 3.59 DRA and had held lefties to a .231/.300/.307 line. That’s certainly not bad, and Crockett figures to make the postseason roster if he stays healthy.
However, the point is that the Indians are now in a much better position to attack the playoffs. Those lockdown innings of relief are much more important in October because there are simply fewer outs to work with over the course of the postseason than there are over the course of the summer.
Andrew Miller has simply been stunning this season. In 45.1 innings, Miller has struck out 77 and walked 7. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .174/.216/.304 against him. He is left-handed. He is signed for two more seasons after this one, for $9 million a pop. He is incredibly, ridiculously valuable. He will pitch for Cleveland in the playoffs.
That’s why it made sense for the Indians to give so much up to the Yankees. As was discussed in the look at the recent Aroldis Chapman trade, the Yankees have now made a fully conscious effort to not contend in 2016. That’s resulted in them suddenly having what may be the best farm system in baseball. Clint Frazier, the headliner of the deal, is an outfielder who ranked 26th on Baseball Prospectus’ midseason top prospect list. Frazier has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order hitter and is already in Triple A at age 21. Also in the deal is Justus Sheffield, a Double-A lefty starter who has put himself into top-100 consideration, along with Triple-A reliever Ben Heller (he hits 100 MPH and has a strong slider) and Double-A reliever J.P. Feyeresien (80-grade name and a good, intriguing arm).
Between that and the haul that they got from the Cubs, the Yankees have put themselves in excellent position to do as they please over the winter and in the coming years. Much of the old and cumbersome talent on the big league roster will soon be gone (via contract expiration or trade), and young talent will quickly begin to filter up through the farm. Frazier will be a very important aspect of that shift.
Conversely, the Yankees could use this sudden glut of talent to trade for impact players already established in the league. For the first time in a generation, the Yankees took a step back from the full-steam-ahead mentality that has defined them for so long. But they’re still the Yankees, and they'll probably at least initially try to win in 2017. If Chris Sale were to suddenly become available over the winter, would Hal Steinbrenner be able to resist? We’ll have to wait and see.
For now, however, the Indians are in even better position to run deep into the playoffs, and the Yankees are in even better position to be the masters of their own future. That’s what the trade deadline is all about. Cleveland may yet still add another player due to their roadblock in the Lucroy deal (a bat like Jay Bruce has been rumored), but for now the Indians have taken their shot and beefed up what may have already been the best team in the American League. That's how championships are won.
LeBron James may not be the only star to win one for the 'Land this year.