Yankees Flex Spending Power, Ink Andrew Miller

There are a lot of people out there wary of giving any reliever a four-year contract. That much is understandable; relievers are capricious. Just yesterday, I tried to make the case that Andrew Miller would be worth Nick Markakis money. And now, Miller has been given Nick Markakis money, almost. He gets the same four years, but Miller’s getting $36 million, not $44 million. This kind of contract was inevitable, and it appears justifiable. At the same time, it’s not a surprise the contract was drawn up by the Yankees.

Let’s say there are teams who believe that Miller will be worth the money. Yet, it’s a clear risk, so, who could most afford the potential downside? The answer in this case, and in all cases: New York. From Kiley McDaniel not too long ago:

A Yankees source told me they could break even financially with a $500 million payroll expenditure[…]

When you put it that way, it’s like, why even bother with analysis? The Yankees don’t have the same worries other teams do. The Yankees do have their limits, but to some extent those limits are artificial, so if you’re in a bidding war for a player the Yankees both like and need, you have to be prepared to lose. It’s the winner’s-curse argument, with a twist where the cursed team is also uniquely blessed.

For the Yankees, it hasn’t been a case of Andrew Miller or David Robertson, necessarily, because they could still conceivably bring their own guy back, but at least, the Yankees have gone with Miller first. He was a little better than Robertson last year. He’s been very similar over the last three years. They’re the same age, and while Robertson’s good against lefties, Miller’s just plain left-handed, which could make him less vulnerable to the peculiarities of Yankee Stadium. And then there’s this: Miller was traded last summer. Robertson turned down a qualifying offer. So if the Yankees were to sign Robertson, they’d be forfeiting a potential compensation pick. There’s value in that, whereas with Miller, all the Yankees are surrendering is money.

And Miller’s great. Obscenely great. Now he gets to be paired with Dellin Betances, and, here’s where those two pitchers ranked last year among all relievers with 40+ innings:

Stat Miller Betances
K% 2 4
K-BB% 2 5
FIP- 4 5
xFIP- 2 3

Miller has one career save to his name. Betances, as well. Yet, statistically, last year these two were no worse than Wade Davis and Greg Holland, so if they’re great again in 2015, the Yankees could approach the late innings by deploying their best relievers based on the matchups. You could see both end up with 20+ saves; alternatively, one could emerge, or neither could get the role, if Robertson comes back or someone else does something. Even as a non-closer last season, Miller was worth a ton, so he doesn’t need to close to justify this deal. It’s just something he could end up doing, because he’s more than good enough.

On Friday, the Yankees opened up a hole in their starting rotation by dealing Shane Greene. Yet, they also plugged a hole in their pitching staff by adding Andrew Miller, and Miller should be no less valuable than some No. 4 or 5 starter the Yankees find as a replacement. There’s no such thing as a bargain reliever contract that costs thirty-six million dollars. But the Yankees have to worry about that less than anyone, and Miller is almost as good as it gets. He told Ken Rosenthal he likes to pitch in the AL East. The AL East hitters are probably getting sick of him.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

I don’t get it. Unless the Yankees will sign Lester,Scherzer, and trade for another bat, they are still well behind the pack. If you not going to contend, spending money on a reliever makes no sense at all.

7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

So, based on your logic, the Yankees will not attempt to compend at any time in the next four years? You are right, it makes no sense. “It” being your post….

7 years ago
Reply to  Steve

I’m not sure we know what Miller will be in four years considering how relievers go. But they did keep it to $9M a year. If this was 3 years at $12M a year, this still may have been an acceptable deal, so why not get that extra year in just in case Miller is still good.

But usually when you sign a FA, it’s with contending in the first half of the contract in mind.

7 years ago
Reply to  Billy

It’s pretty silly to think that the Yankees are going to go through a rebuilding period. Even if they were in as bad shape as they appeared last year (and they’re not that), they would just spend themselves back into competitiveness rather than rebuild. They may publicly pretend they’re not going to spend big money on free agents, but they go through that charade every year.

The Yankees are basically the only team in baseball that can afford to be competitive simply by paying free agent market rates on the entire roster. I guess maybe the Dodgers have joined that club too.

7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

Murphy’s Law struck the Yankees last year and yet they were still only 4 wins away from the wild card. The Yankees are closer to contending than you think.

williams .482member
7 years ago
Reply to  Gregory

If Murphy’s law hit any team in 2014, it was the Red Sox and/or the Rays. Both of those teams “should” have been significantly better than New York last season, but had a hellish run of injuries and underperformance in all facets of the game.

7 years ago
Reply to  williams .482

It seems pretty clear to me that the Red Sox outperformed their talent in 2013 as much as they underperformed it in 2014. Everyone (both computer and human) projected them to be a mediocre low-80ish win team in 2013, but they ended up with 97 wins and a championship. Then, despite the team remaining basically the same, the projections (both computer and human) overreacted and projected them to be the best team in baseball. I don’t think they sucked in 2014 nor do I think they were exceptional in 2013; the truth is halfway between the two, and the results are just a reflection of the whims of luck.

7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

They will get either Lester, Hamels, Scherzer, or Shields ( in that order of preference ). I don’t quite see how they wouldn’t be at least as good as last year, provided they keep Robertson, Headley, and McCarthy.

7 years ago
Reply to  francis

“Provided they keep Robertson, Headley, and McCarthy” There is where your argument falls apart. They’ll be fine, just as long as they sign one of the best pitchers and baseball, and bring back all three of their other quality free agents. Just because they can spend $500M on payroll, doesn’t mean they are going to.

a eskpert
7 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

A healthy Sabathia and Tanaka ought to help.

Harry P Flashman
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

They aren’t behind the pack. Fangraphs always over values young players on good contracts- and based on the aging curve discounts the Yankees. Yet they over perform every year. Miller saves 15 million over Robertson and the Yankees will be competitive this year.