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Transaction Analysis 2/12: Cards sign UT Brad Miller to MLB Contract, Place Hicks on 60-day IL

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As I was finalizing an article about the Cards’ spring training roster, the Cardinals just announced a transaction that affected that roster.

Signed Free Agent UT Brad Miller to a 1-year, $2 million MLB contract

Miller was originally drafted as a shortstop by the Seattle Mariners in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft out of Clemson. Invited to camp as a non-roster invitee in 2013, the Mariners purchased Miller’s contract and added him to the 40-man roster on June 28th of that year after he had played 42 AA games and 26 games at the AAA level that season. Taking former Cardinal Josh Kinney’s place on the 40-man roster, Miller was promoted to play SS basically because the Mariners had given up on former Cardinal Brendan Ryan. Miller would go on to start 62 games at SS and 11 games at 2B that year and was the regular SS in 2014. He started 80 games at SS in 2015, but also started 30 games in the outfield, with 20 in CF.

After the 2015 season, the Mariners traded Miller along with Logan Morrison and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays for Nate Karns, C.J. Riefenhauser and Boog Powell. Playing mostly SS, but also starting 37 games at 1B, Miller busted out in 2016 with 30 HR, but his wRC+ was only 111 likely because he played in the American League and only had a .304 OBP. Still, Miller had the 2nd highest HR total for a SS in the majors that season behind Manny Machado and the 7th best SS wRC+ in the majors. It was also a pleasant surprise, as Miller had never had more than 11 HRs at any minor league stop. Miller’s poor defense at the position prevented him from having greater than a 2.3 fWAR.

In 2017, the Rays decided to move Miller from SS to 2B and have Tim Beckham start the year at short. Miller’s power numbers went into the tank (.136 ISO, down from .239 the season before), he only hit .201, hit only 9 HRs and slugged .337 (an almost 150 point drop from 2016), but he ended up walking 15.5% of the time, which saved his offensive season (84 wRC+) from being a total disaster. The Rays were hopeful for the future and perhaps chalked Miller’s offensive struggles up to injury, as he lost almost 2 months to the injured list with abdominal and groin ailments and had offseason surgery.

But by opening day 2018, Adeiny Hechavarria was the starting shortstop, Brad Robertson was the starting second baseman, and the lefty-swinging Miller was being platooned at first base with C.J. Cron. After 9 regular season games, Miller went on the injured list on April 9th with another groin strain and returned on April 20th. On June 7th, the Rays decided to cut bait, designating Miller for assignment. The club apparently believed that Miller didn’t have the defense to play the middle infield on a regular basis and with reduced offensive numbers (career high 29.3% K rate, 6% drop in walk rate, 107 wRC+ despite a MLB career-best .343 BABIP), he wasn’t good enough offensively to play 1B as the long side of a platoon. Three days after the DFA, the Rays traded Miller to the Milwaukee Brewers straight up for 1B Ji-Man Choi, who had already been outrighted to AAA by 3 different clubs and was on his last option year.

On the day after the trade, the Brewers decided to option Miller to AAA Colorado Springs, the first time Miller had been optioned to the minors in his career. After only 8 games in the minors, the Brewers recalled Miller on June 23rd, optioning OF Domingo Santana to AAA. After 18 starts (13 at 2B, 5 at SS) and 27 games, however, the Brewers also gave up on Miller, designating him assignment on July 28th to make room for the newly-acquired Mike Moustakas, and releasing him 3 days later. In 80 PA with the Brewers, Miller struck out almost 40% of the time, and managed only a .230/.288/.378 slash line and a 75 wRC+, despite a .366 BABIP. Miller remained out of baseball the rest of the year and had surgery in August to repair a torn labrum in his hip as well as microfracture surgery on the same hip.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Miller to a minor league deal in late February 2019 and invited him to spring training, but, sensing that he was not going to make the opening day roster, Miller exercised an opt-out clause in his contract that forced the Dodgers to give him his unconditional release after 12 spring training games. On March 24th, 2019, he signed a 1-year major league deal with the Cleveland Indians, a club which had injury issues in the middle infield. After starting 11 of the club’s first 14 games at 2B, the Indians decided to designate Miller for assignment when Jason Kipnis, their preferred regular second baseman, was ready to return from the injured list. Miller cleared outright assignment waivers, but elected free agency instead of accepting an outright assignment to AAA.

The New York Yankees then signed Miller to a minor league deal and assigned him to AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre. After Miller slashed .294/.399/.596 over 41 games and 163 PA with 20 extra base hits out of 40 (10 HRs), a .301 ISO, a 14.7% BB rate and starts all across the diamond defensively, the Yankees flipped him for cash to the Philadelphia Phillies on June 13th, 2019. The Phillies purchased his contract the next day, activating him to the 25-man roster when they designated Phil Gosselin for assignment. Primarily used as a pinch hitter, Miller made 8 starts (7 at 3B, 1 in LF) before going on the injured list with a hip flexor strain. Returning on August 4th, Miller remained on the roster for the rest of the year, making 18 more starts (14 total for the season at 3B, 12 total in LF), while slugging .800 and hitting 8 HRs in September. Miller’s time in the majors in 2019 pushed him just barely over 6 total years of major league service time, and he was automatically declared a free agent 5 days after the World Series ended.

The Cards have long claimed that they wanted a multi-positional lefty masher off the bench, and they apparently believe that Miller fits that bill. Although he has started at least one game at every position on the diamond except for catcher, he’s never been rated as even above average on defense anywhere. He has one 30-HR season to his credit, but his career wRC+ is almost dead average at 101. He can’t hit left-handed pitching as his career .225/.284/.334 slash line and 71 wRC+ against southpaws demonstrates, although he’s only been allowed to try it 618 times in the majors. He only has a career .323 OBP and 110 wRC+ against righties, so he’s not exactly a world-beater against them either. Now 30 years old, Miller has also not been called on to pinch hit very much, with only 89 PA, a .183/.247/.280 slash line and a 37.1% K rate (33 SO out of 89 PA) in the role.

It remains unclear just what Mike Shildt will ask Miller to do. As a player with at least 5 years of MLB service time, he may not be sent to the minors in any capacity without his consent. The Cards could place him on outright assignment waivers, but if he clears, he can not only elect free agency immediately upon an attempted outright assignment, but could flat out refuse the outright assignment and force the Cards to trade or release him. In addition, as an Article XX-B free agent (free agency secured due to 6 years of MLB service time), Miller gets an automatic no-trade right through June 15th of the 2020 season. In addition, his contract calls for him to get $100,000 payments upon each of 250, 300, 350, 400 and 450 plate appearances.

The Cards would surely prefer either Tommy Edman or Edmundo Sosa to back up the middle infield spots, and Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Justin Williams and Austin Dean are all vying for outfield jobs. And as stated above, Miller has no track record as a successful pinch hitter. Maybe Miller turns out to be the lefty masher the Cards have been longing for, but maybe he turns into this year’s Drew Robinson signing, If there’s a silver lining for VEB fans, it looks increasingly likely that Yairo Munoz will open the season at AAA. The Cards would not have made this signing if they did not expect that Miller would crack the opening day roster.

Placed RHP Jordan Hicks on the 60-day IL

Because the Cards’ 40-man roster is full, the Cards had to make a corresponding roster move to make room for Miller. The Club decided to place RHP Jordan Hicks on the 60-day injured list. Not expected back until July 2020, Hicks is recovering from Tommy John surgery. The move was legal because (1) the Cards’ 40-man roster was full; and (2) players can be placed on the 60-day IL on the day that pitchers and catchers report to spring training, which was yesterday. It is important to note, however, that the 60 days for Hicks does not begin to run until the first day of the MLB regular season. In other words, regardless of when during spring training a player is placed on the 60-day IL, that player must spend the first 60 days of the regular season on the 60-day IL and is not eligible to be activated from that list until the 61st day of the regular season. Again, as Hicks is not expected to be back until much later, this is not a problem for the Cards, but placing Hicks on the 60-day IL now gives them one less potential roster move in their back pocket to make in case the club needs to make another addition to the 40-man.

Stay tuned for an article tomorrow that analyzes the Cards’ spring training roster of 72 players and highlights some transactional rules that are applicable to spring training.