For the fifth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.
At the 2014 trade deadline, the Red Sox decided to trade Andrew Miller to the Orioles in exchange for Eduardo Rodríguez. It was a trade of two months of an elite reliever for a top 100 starting pitching prospect that you don’t really see anymore.
In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.
As I discussed when looking back at the Jake Peavy trade, the Red Sox were in a fire sale mode in July. At the trade deadline they were in last place and 13 games out, not to mention the fact that their 48-60 record was one of the worst in the AL. They had no need for a reliever who was going to be a free agent at season’s end.
Miller was not just any reliever, though. He was arguably the best in baseball at the time. He had a 2.76 RA9 and was one of only five relievers who was striking out over 40 percent of batters faced. He also seemed to finally be getting his wildness under control.
Control had always been a big problem for Miller. He was always tall and lanky, so he always struggled with repeating his delivery, which in turn made it difficult for him to locate his pitches. He walked 12.6 percent of batters faced in 2013, which coincidentally was also his career rate after over 430 IP! It was remarkable that his walk rate going into August 2014 was hovering around league average.
Red Sox player development truly did an outstanding job of turning Miller into an elite reliever after they acquired him before the 2011 season. He was not just a lefty specialist, either. With the caveat that platoon splits for relievers are very, very small even in multi-season samples, right-handed hitters were just as helpless against him as lefties were.
The Orioles were in first place, but only 2.5 games up on the Blue Jays. Furthermore, they were in danger of having to go on the road for the Coin Flip game if they lost the division. Their bullpen was not bad at all, especially with Zack Britton and Darren O’Day turning in sub-2.00 RA9s. The problem is that even though their best relievers were adept at not giving out free passes, their strikeout rates were rather mediocre. Overall, the bullpen’s 21.2 K% was tied with the Pirates as only the 20th-best in baseball. A high strikeout reliever such as Miller had the potential to be very useful for them, especially in the postseason.
As good as Miller was, trading Eduardo Rodríguez was a very high price to pay for him, especially for just two months. Keith Law ranked him as a top-50 prospect the winter before, pegging him as a possible future number two starter, and then he cracked his top 30 the following winter, as Law started to see the potential for a future ace.
I get “going for it” at the trade deadline by overpaying some for talent, but this was pretty extreme. Short of a World Series championship, there was a very high chance the Orioles would regret this trade. Conversely, it was all upside for the Red Sox. If Rodríguez turned out to be a bust, all he cost them was a player they no longer needed or were going to keep.
After the trade, Miller went on the best run of his career. Through 20 IP with the Orioles, he had a 1.35 RA9, 47.2 K%, and the formerly erratic hurler was able to drop his walk rate to a very good 5.6 percent.
The Orioles finished in first place with 96 wins, second only to the Angels’ 98 wins, and easily won the division by 12 games over the Yankees. They swept the Tigers in the ALDS, but were then in turn swept by the Royals in the ALCS. It was through no fault of Miller, though, who continued to be lights out in the playoffs. He pitched 7 1⁄3 innings over five appearances and gave up zero runs while striking out eight out of the 24 batters he faced. If you are going to overpay for a reliever, this is what you want to get from him.
Miller went on to sign a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees that winter. He continued to be elite by striking out over 40 percent of the batters faced with a 2.02 RA9 before being traded to the Indians at the 2016 trade deadline.
It is nothing short of remarkable that a reliever was able to go through a three-year span with a 1.81 RA9 and a strikeout rate over 40 percent, all while limiting the free passes to better than the league average. Anything more than two years for a reliever is risky, but this worked out as well as it possibly could have for the Yankees and Indians.
After that elite three-year run, Miller finally showed signs of being human, as his age likely started to catch up with him. In 2018, he had a mediocre 4.24 RA9 and his strikeout rate fell below 30 percent. To make matters worse, his control problems were returning. His walk rate cracked 10 percent for the first time since 2013. He signed a two-year, $25 million deal with the Cardinals last winter but he might have regressed even further. I say “might” because even though he had a 5.27 RA9, his strikeout and walk rates were not much different than the year before, he just got lit up by the juiced ball. If he does not bounce back this upcoming season, the Cardinals might have to make a difficult decision.
Rodríguez debuted for the Sox in 2015 in a solid rookie season. He had a 4.07 RA9 over 21 starts, but his strikeout rate was poor, failing to strikeout even 19 percent of batters faced. He struggled in his sophomore season, but continued to improve after that. Over the past two seasons, he has combined for a 3.89 RA9 with a strikeout rate that has climbed to a respectable 25.4 percent.
One can look at E-Rod’s 6.0 WAR and argue that he has achieved top of the rotation status, but I am not sure I would agree. The reasons why his WAR is so high despite a 3.90 RA9 is because of park factors, a poor defense, strong competition, and volume (he pitched over 200 innings). At Baseball Prospectus, however, he had a 4.46 DRA and only a 2.9 WAR there. In fact, he had a much better 3.77 DRA the year before.
If you want to say that Rodríguez pitched like a six-win pitcher in 2019, I won’t argue with you, but it looks like he benefited from some favorable adjustments at Baseball Reference. If you want to say he will be a 5-6 WAR pitcher in 2020, however, I think that is a pretty difficult case to make. This is also a good case to illustrate why it is beneficial to have multiple WAR models. In the sciences, it is common to have more than one or even several models to measure the same thing.
Boston Red Sox
That’s pretty great for two months of a reliever. Rodríguez does not hit free agency until after the 2021 season, so as long as John Henry does not cry poor again and trade him, he should crack 20 WAR before he enters the open market.
Again, the Orioles could not have asked for more than they got from Miller, and to be fair, I am sure GM Dan Duquette is not surprised by how E-Rod turned out. Orioles starting pitching struggled in the subsequent years, though, so they really could have used Rodríguez. There is a reason why you don’t really see trades like this anymore. It’s just not worth it.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.