The Nationals Should Not Trade For Andrew Miller
The Washington Nationals have a problem on their hands. Once again this year, as the team looks to secure another playoff berth, the back of their bullpen has become a huge question mark.
With the trade deadline drawing near, closer Jonathan Papelbon has hit the skids, giving up 7 earned runs in his last two outings, blowing 2 saves in 2/3 of an inning combined. In his last outing against the Cleveland Indians, he entered the ninth with a two-run lead and proceeded to give up three runs without recording an out, leading the Nats to a disastrous 7-6 loss.
Clearly, something needs to be done. Papelbon now sports a 4.18 ERA, albeit with a better fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.20. However, his walk rate is way up this year, at 3.34 batters per nine innings. It was 1.71 in 2015.
The Nationals have nightmares of bullpen disasters past, specifically Drew Storen's misadventures in the postseason. That is why they had been heavily linked to Aroldis Chapman before he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs and why many are screaming for Washington to go all-in for another New York relief pitcher, the great Andrew Miller.
Why Adding Miller Makes Sense
It makes all the sense in the world for the Nationals to acquire Miller, who is, quite simply, a stud. In 44 appearances (45 1/3 innings), he has an ERA of 1.39 and a FIP of 1.77. He is striking out an insane 15.29 batters per nine innings and walking just 1.39. Opponents are hitting .172 against him this year, and it's basically been this way ever since he became a full-time reliever in 2012.
Miller is third among qualified MLB relievers in fWAR (1.8), second in strikeouts per nine innings (15.29) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (11 strikeouts per walk), and seventh in ERA (1.39). He would be a lights-out option for the Nationals to lock down the ninth inning, a clear upgrade over Papelbon.
Miller also makes sense because he's not a rental. He is signed through 2018 at $9 million a season, a very reasonable price for a dominant relief pitcher. All those factors are why the Yankees would certainly demand Washington give up their best young prospect, the outstanding Lucas Giolito, in any deal for Miller.
But maybe the Nationals don't have to do anything quite that drastic.
Why Adding Miller Doesn't Make Sense
Giolito is a strikeout pitcher who has averaged more than a strikeout per inning during his minor league career. He doesn't have much Major League experience yet (just three starts and 11 innings total), but he's got a fastball that averages 93 to 94 miles per hour that can get amped up to 97 or 98, as well as terrific curveball and outstanding changeup.
Most believe he is a future ace. But that time is not now, and the Nats have an open window to win the World Series (11.2% according to our algorithm). Why not deal Giolito for Miller?
Here's an idea. Make Giolito the closer.
A move like this is not unprecedented. In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals eased a young Adam Wainwright in the Majors by pitching him out of the bullpen that season. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he assumed the role of closer and locked down a world title for the Cardinals, recording the final out.
In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays did the same with future ace David Price. Price had only 14 big-league innings under his belt when he assumed the closer role for the postseason and closed out the AL Championship Series, in Game 7, against the defending world champs, the Boston Red Sox.
Instead of trading Giolito to boost the back of their bullpen, why not simply use him back there? Or, they could use recently called-up starter Reynaldo Lopez in that role. He only has 4 2/3 Major League innings on his résumé but is another swing-and-miss arm who throws hard, averaging 96 on his fastball, with a curveball and changup to go with it.
Utilizing Giolito and Lopez, with Papelbon perhaps pitching in the seventh or eighth innings somewhere or possibly being dealt before the trade deadline, could give the Nats some swing-and-miss options to close games out while also not mortgaging the future for a relief pitcher, even one as good as Miller.
Of course, both Giolito and Lopez are inexperienced, and Miller is a steady veteran who, in 8 1/3 postseason innings, has allowed no runs and 1 hit while walking 1 and striking out 10. If the idea is to calm fears, Miller would certainly be a safer choice.
But there is a precedent to using a young, untested starter in the closer's role in the postseason. It's a blueprint the Nationals should at least consider.