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Cut, Keep, or Trade: The suddenly expendable Brad Miller

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MLB: Chicago Cubs at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Miller had a disappointing follow up to his 30 homer campaign of 2016, hitting .201/.327/.337 and with an 83 wRC+. In othwr words, he went from average regular to replacement level, despite the Rays’ belief in him.

The Rays began 2017 expecting Matt Duffy and Brad Miller to man the middle infield, but neither stayed healthy, prompting the acquisition of Adeiny Hechavarria and promotion of Tim Beckham. When Miller’s return created a roster crunch, the Rays believed in Miller enough to trade Beckham away instead.

Now, despite the dismal results on offense, Miller is set for a pay raise yet again.

According to Matt Shwartz of MLBTraderumors.com Miller is in line for a raise to $4.4MM in his second trip through arbitration.

Could the Rays keep Brad Miller?

Due to the budget crunch the likely choice is pairing Adeiny Hechavarria or Brad Miller, as they are projected to make similar amounts, with the topflight Matt Duffy as the starting middle infielders.

Brad Miller had a bad year at the plate and his defense doesn’t bring value, so he has to hit or he doesn’t really do anything positive for the team. That didn’t happen, but not everything was bad.

Miller was much more patient than he has been at anytime in his career. His walk rate spiked 7.7% with a corresponding 2.2% uptick in strikeouts. His swing rate fell to 45.6% from 49.1% in 2016. His in zone swing rate has been consistent the past three years coming in at 71.1%, 71.6%, and 71.4% respectively. The drop in swing rate came entirely from out of the zone swings as they fell from 32.4% to 27.4%. His contact rate fell as his swinging strike rate increased a bit.

Last year it seemed that nearly every ball hit in the air was well struck. That wasn’t the case this year. Some regression was expected with a huge increase in HR/FB from career norms. He increased his OBP by .023 but that wasn’t enough. His .136 ISO was a career low while balls were flying out around the league at historic rates.

Miller shouldn’t bat against left handed pitchers if it can be avoided. His 83 wRC+ was close to 2016’s 88 wRC+ against southpaws. For his career he has a 71 wRC+ versus left handed hitters.

The drop in production came entirely against right handed pitchers. Miller’s 83 wRC+ was the lowest of his career. The previous two seasons he put up 125 and 118 wRC+ respectively with a career 109 wRC+ against right handed pitchers. His ISO fell to .128. 2014 was the only other time he put up an ISO below .187 in his career.

A low batting average and ISO couldn’t be saved by the increased OBP.

The question is it a problem of being too patient to the point of passivity or was the drop due to injury. Miller spent most of two months on the disabled list.

If the Rays believe it is something that can be corrected, $4.4MM isn’t really that bad for what he is capable of. That might not be the best way for the Rays to spend the money, but it’s a reasonable decision if other moves are made.

Could the Rays trade Brad Miller?

For all the reasons that the Rays could believe in a rebound with the bat another team could be interested in acquiring the bounce back candidate.

Trading position players is much more difficult than pitchers. Almost every team is in the market for pitching to some degree. With position players that isn’t the case. Teams are usually looking to fill very specific positions if they are in the market.

Last winter only 29 players with at least one year of service time were traded. 17 position players and 12 pitchers switched teams. The bulk of the trades involved teams trading from depth for needs.

At second base that makes things even tougher. Last season the Rays traded Logan Forsythe in part because they felt they couldn’t move him later for what they felt was a good return. Much like last winter there looks to be little need for second baseman and more supply that could be on the trade market.

The closest comparable was Danny Espinosa being traded from the Washington Nationals to the Los Angeles Angels for Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin. McGowin, 22nd, and Adams, 24th, both came in Baseball America’s top 30 list for the Angels. The Angels system is considered weak, and likely wouldn’t be ranked in a better system. Espinosa was projected to make $5.3MM in his last trip through arbitration. He was coming off a 79 wRC+ season, but has been a much better defender throughout his career.

If teams don’t view him as a second baseman the odds of finding a taker on the trade market is much tougher. Like last off season there will likely be more 1B/DH bats than there are jobs. You can find a similar or better bat for the same price range.

It’s possible there is a team out there that will give you a lotto ticket or two for the right to pay Miller a reasonable rate if they want to take the gamble.

Could the Rays cut Brad Miller?

If Miller was a free agent he would likely get a deal in the $3-6MM range, so $4.4MM isn’t any sort of bargain. A team might get him cheaper if he’s cut.

Although Miller just turned 28 a few days ago it wouldn’t be the first time that a player went from league average to replacement level seemingly overnight.

If the Rays don’t find a taker for Miller or want to bet on the rebound this is a very real possibility.