Cleveland Indians’ Acquisition of Andrew Miller Outshines the Mess with Jonathan Lucroy

87th MLB All-Star Game
Sean M. Haffey-Getty Images

Well, the trade deadline saga with the Cleveland Indians sure did escalate quickly.

After days and days of rumors tying various players to the Tribe, the team went gung-ho throughout last night. First, Cleveland agreed to a deal which would send a few prospects – including a big prize in catcher Francisco Mejia – to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

However, the Indians didn’t sit around and wait for Lucroy to waive his no-trade clause. They instead set their sights to the Bronx, swinging a huge trade for New York Yankees lefty reliever Andrew Miller. Considered the top relief pitcher available, he required a hefty haul from Cleveland in return. The Tribe had to give up two big-time prospects in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, something more than a few fans still aren’t happy with.

That said, if Tribe supporters were looking for something else to vent about, they got it this morning when Lucroy threw a wet blanket on all the trade buzz. Milwaukee’s catcher refused to waive his clause, vetoing the trade and keeping that hole in the Indians’ batting order intact.

For obvious reasons, this was quite a letdown. After acquiring two of the best available talents, essentially telling everyone they were all in on 2016, it sure seemed like the Indians had become the team to beat in the AL. Lucroy’s denial takes away a good deal of hype, and Cleveland now has to find a backup option for offensive help in less than 24 hours.

As upset as I am to see the Milwaukee deal fall through, though, the Tribe still came into today as a big-time deadline winner. The acquisition of Miller outweighs the loss of Lucroy, and there are a few reasons why.

For one, the bullpen is easily the Indians’ biggest weakness. While closer Cody Allen has been solid despite a flair for the dramatic, and Dan Otero seems to have stepped up as a clutch reliever, the rest of the group just isn’t reliable enough.

Bryan Shaw, while prone to hot-streaks, has struggled to consistently avoid giving up back-breaking runs. Attempts at finding early inning help in the form of Jeff Manship, Tommy Hunter and Kyle Crockett have been mostly swings and misses, and not the good kind.

In Miller, Cleveland’s bullpen receives its anchor. With a 1.39 ERA and 77 strikeouts in just 45.1 innings pitched, the now-former Yankee is one of the game’s best. Miller is in the middle of one of his strongest seasons in the bigs, and is on pace to potentially set a career high in K’s.

With this move, Cleveland can avoid throwing Shaw on the mound in tight situations, instead giving Miller the ball and letting him do what he does best. Or, the Tribe can instead slide Allen and Shaw up an inning, allowing Miller to close.

Cleveland has plenty of options after a trade like this. This is a big reason why getting Miller should soften the blow of Lucroy’s last minute denial. The other is the complications which popped up in acquiring the Brewers catcher.

For one, while the Indians are getting dismal production from their current catcher group, Lucroy’s addition would’ve caused a bit of a logjam. Though Yan Gomes is on the DL for a while and in the middle of a painfully bad slump, Cleveland committed to him when it signed him through 2019. Next year could’ve been tricky once both Lucroy and Gomes were healthy.

Of course, Lucroy’s bringing this up appeared to be what killed the trade. He grew concerned when the Tribe couldn’t promise him an everyday catcher job next year. He also essentially wanted the Indians to erase a good bit of what made the deal so appealing – his 2017 option.

Lucroy had a club option in his contract which would’ve paid him $5.25 million next year, quite cheap for someone of his talents. In order to waive his no-trade clause, he wanted Cleveland to avoid picking it up, allowing him to either become a free agent or sign a higher-priced extension. The Tribe balked, and the deal got nixed.

As you can see, the Lucroy trade was certainly enticing, but didn’t come without complications. I would’ve loved to see him join the Indians, but in hindsight there were some notable issues which made the deal too complex.

This is why fans shouldn’t get too hung up on the failed Lucroy deal. The Indians have time to find another, potentially cheaper bat, one which doesn’t require as many stipulations.

The other reason to avoid getting bummed is Cleveland’s shiny new reliever. In getting Miller, the Indians shore up their biggest area of concern, and have made themselves a significantly better team.


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