What should Theo do? Deadline looms for Andrew Miller
posted at 6/14/2011 12:56 PM EDT
by Gordon Edes/ESPN
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- While the Red Sox look to extend their season-high winning streak to 10 games Tuesday night, a drama of another sort will be playing out in Pawtucket, where gifted left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller
-- and the Red Sox -- are faced with a decision that could have a lasting impact on both the player and the franchise.
Miller is scheduled to pitch Tuesday night for the PawSox against the Charlotte Knights, Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox
. Wednesday is the day, contractually agreed upon, that Miller can choose to opt out of his contract with the Sox if they haven’t summoned him to the majors by then.
The decision is not an easy one for either side.
The Sox acquired Miller by trade last November from the Florida Marlins
for left-handed reliever Dustin Richardson
, then non-tendered him, choosing instead to sign him to a free-agent minor-league deal because he was out of options and wanted more roster flexibility.
Miller had offers from other teams, big-league offers, but chose to sign with the Red Sox because he decided they gave him the best chance to unlock the talent that has not yet delivered on the enormous promise that led the Detroit Tigers
to draft him No. 1 in 2006, the year that he and good friend Daniel Bard
pitched the University of North Carolina to the College World Series. Bard was drafted in the first round that year by the Sox.
And while Bard struggled in his first year of pro ball, then quickly shot up through the ranks to become the team’s invaluable setup man, Miller was promoted to the big leagues weeks after being drafted by the Tigers, but has foundered ever since. The Tigers traded him to the Marlins as part of the blockbuster deal in which Detroit acquired slugger Miguel Cabrera
, but Miller was only 10-20 with a 5.89 ERA and averaged over 5 walks per nine innings.
The Red Sox acquired Miller with the understanding that he was a work in progress. He dazzled them in his first outing in spring training, touching 99 miles an hour on the gun, and was in the mix for a job as left-handed reliever. But at the same time, there was always an understanding that he’d probably begin the season in Pawtucket, to give him time to work out his mechanical issues and rebuild his confidence.
By all accounts, it has been a highly successful experiment, satisfying for both sides. Miller, who was inserted into the Pawtucket starting rotation, comes into Tuesday night’s start with a 3-3 record and 2.54 ERA in 11 starts. But what has been especially impressive have been his last three starts: he shut out Indianapolis on 1 hit over 7 innings on May 29, struck out nine and did not walk a batter in six innings against Durham on June 3, then went seven innings allowing just one run while walking none June 8 against Norfolk.
Left-handed hitters are batting a collective .111 against him. With pitching in such short supply, the 6-foot-7 Miller, who is still just 26, would have no problem finding another big-league job if he elects to opt out.
What are the options facing the Red Sox? One, of course, is to let him walk, which makes little sense, especially since it looks like they are winning their bet that Miller can still pitch effectively.
In a perfect world, they would probably like him to remain in Pawtucket in the rotation, continue to build on his success, then call him up when the need arises later in the season. But for now, Tim Wakefield
, who also pitches Tuesday night (and it’s interesting to note that Miller and Wakefield are on the same schedule) has served the club well as the team’s No. 5 starter since Daisuke Matsuzaka
went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
The Sox could also call Miller up as a left-handed reliever, a role currently being filled by sidearmer Tommy Hottovy
, who has been unscored upon in his four appearances. That would be an easy solution, having Miller swap places with Hottovy, but not if the Sox are looking at Miller as someone who could help them down the stretch as a starter.
So how do they persuade Miller to remain in Pawtucket and not exercise his opt-out? Well, if all else fails, there’s always money. Miller’s contract would pay him a pro-rated $1.3 million if he is called up to the big leagues. The Sox, depending on the strength of their conviction that Miller could be an important piece going forward, might find ways to add a sweetener.