Rays Face Tough Decision On Brad Miller’s Future

To Tender or Not To Tender?

Tampa Bay Rays
AP Photo: Chris O’Meara

That is the question. If tendered a contract by the Rays, Brad Miller is projected (MLBTradeRumors) to earn $4.4MM through his second trip through arbitration. It is fair to ask whether or not the team should commit that amount of money to a player whose role in 2018 is undefined as best.

What To Do?

Miller spent the much of the 2016 season at shortstop but struggled in both defensive runs saved (-14) and UZR/150 (-6.9). After the Rays acquired Matt Duffy, they moved him to first base. He finished the season playing primarily at first base even after Duffy succumbed to the heal pain that required additional surgery.

There were no problems with Millers’ bat in 2016 as he hit .243/.304/.482 adding 30 homers in 548 plate appearances.  It was a breakout year for Miller who in parts of three seasons with the Mariners hit .248/.313/.394 while hitting 29 homers in 1,243 plate appearances.

Last off-season, the Rays dealt incumbent second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jose DeLeon. The deal opened the door for Miller to take over at second base.

Unfortunately, he received poor grades in both defensive runs saved (DRS [-4]) and UZR/150 (-14.8). He also struggled with the bat and was unable to to follow up his 2016 breakout campaign. Overall, he hit just .201/.327/.337 with just 9 homers in 409 plate appearances.

A Man Without A Position:

Due to the heel injury, Matt Duffy was never able to make it back with the Rays in 2017.  Despite not playing, the tea leaves suggest he may find himself as the teams starting second baseman in 2018.

The shortstop position is expected to be manned by Adeiny Hechavarria who was was acquired from the Miami Marlins on June 26th.  In 77 games with the Rays, Hech hit .257/.289/.411 with seven homers in 281 plate appearances. He also rated highly in DRS (+6) and UZR/150 (10).

Where does this leave Miller? While he does have the defensive versatility the Rays like he isn’t really a good glove at any of the positions.

Then there’s the bat. What to expect? It’s fair to ask if the 2016 Miller was a mirage. Through his career his HR/FB ratio has been steady, fluctuation between 9.6-10.8-percent. In 2016, it was a staggering 20.4-percent.

Last season, Miller did show an uncanny eye at the plate drawing walks in 15.5-percent of his plate appearance. His career range fluctuated between 7.2-9.5 percent. It should be noted that he struck out a career high 27-percent in 2017.

What Options Do The Rays Have?

They could simply non-tender him at any point between now and December 2nd. This would open up a 40-man roster spot if needed. Odds are the Rays would hold onto him into November and look for a trade partner.

As noted above, finding a trade partner is the most appealing for the Rays. Especially if the return is not a player with a comparable expected 2018 salary. An added bonus would be if the player(s) received in return do not need to be added to the 40-man roster.  The type of trade to model is the Jeremy Hellickson deal in November 2014.

Hellickson was projected to make $3.9MM in arbitration and the Rays needed 40-man roster spots.  The trade of Hellickson to the Diamondbacks accomplished both goals as the return was two prospects (Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams). Neither player needed to be added to the clubs 40-man roster.

Finally, the Rays could tender him a contract and use him all over the diamond. The big hope here is that his bat comes back to life.

The Rays may be in the market for a right handed bat to play first base and Miller could provide a left handed compliment there. He could play second base giving Duffy an occasional day off his feet. Or, he could play second base while Duffy moves to shortstop or third to give Hechavarria or Longoria a day off.

There will be a lot of moving parts this winter. It will be very interesting to see what evolves with Miller over the coming months.

 

 

 

I am a fan of all sports but am most passionate about baseball. From the fanatical to analytical, nothing about the game escapes me. Being born and raised in Northeast Ohio I'm very familiar with the heartache and pain that sports can bring and hope that I bring some understanding of the other side to my coverage. I will focus mostly on baseball but also cover the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the most electric franchises in all of sports. Always willing to converse about any sport and have only one rule and that is be respectful at all times.