The giddiness in Cleveland over two major acquisitions by the Indians in a 12-hour span wore off Sunday morning after one of the trades fell apart, but the go-go Indians did finish one deal, getting lockdown reliever Andrew Miller from the retooling New York Yankees for four prospects.
Excitement over Miller was tempered by the disappointment of not finishing a trade for Jonathan Lucroy, the All-Star catcher whom the Indians had agreed to acquire from the Milwaukee Brewers late Saturday night. By Sunday morning, Lucroy had rejected the trade to Cleveland, his right via a no-trade clause, after the Indians refused to tear up his club option for 2017, sources familiar with the situation told Yahoo Sports.
While the spin from Lucroy’s camp has been he was concerned about spending too much time at first base and designated hitter with Cleveland next season, executives across the game told Yahoo Sports that even if he did, it would not lessen his value going into the 2017 offseason, when Lucroy hits free agency. He is widely regarded as a top 3 catcher in baseball, alongside Buster Posey and Salvador Perez, and Lucroy’s addition would’ve filled a huge hole on an Indians roster that needs a catcher to spell the injured and struggling Yan Gomes. Lucroy, who signed what turned out to be a well-under-market contract with Milwaukee, is making $4 million this year and will make $5.25 million under the option next year. Cleveland could have offered other financial incentives to induce Lucroy to accept the trade but didn’t.
With Miller, the Indians at least took care of their other pressing need. It cost four prospects: Budding star outfielder Clint Frazier, left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield and two right-handed relievers, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. Had the Lucroy deal been finished – while other teams believe it could be resurrected, the Indians say privately the deal is dead – they would’ve yielded four more prospects: switch-hitting catcher Francisco Mejia, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, outfielder Greg Allen and reliever Shawn Armstrong.
Milwaukee now pivots to other potential options, which include the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and Texas Rangers, none of whom are on his no-trade list. It also could hold on to Lucroy and try to trade him during the offseason to one of the 21 teams to which he cannot block a deal.
While a deal for Lucroy seemed imminent Saturday, the one Sunday morning for Miller was a shocker. The Yankees aren’t entirely forfeiting their season, as they dealt for reliever Tyler Clippard soon after the Miller trade’s completion. Still, it was an unlikely posture for the Yankees, first trading Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs and now Miller – with two more seasons at a reasonable $9 million per on the books – to a Cleveland team that desperately needed back-end bullpen help.
Miller provides that and more. Whatever role he fills – closer or high-leverage fireman to be deployed by manager Terry Francona at any time – he’s likely to shine. In 45 1/3 innings this season, Miller has 77 strikeouts, seven walks and a 1.39 ERA. Pairing him with closer Cody Allen and setup men Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero gives Cleveland a bullpen every bit worthy of its rotation, which is the best in the AL.
The price was significant. Frazier, 21, best known for his flowing red hair and similarly fiery bat speed, immediately becomes the Yankees’ best prospect. Sheffield should find himself near the top of the list, too, while Heller throws 100 mph out of the bullpen and should soon find himself setting up new Yankees closer Dellin Betances.
New York’s prospect depth is now among the best in the game, with Frazier likely to join the outfield sometime next season, Gary Sanchez primed to take over at catcher and a panoply of others on the come: Shortstop Gleyber Torres, the main return in the Chapman deal, along with second baseman Jorge Mateo, third baseman Miguel Andujar, outfielder Aaron Judge and this year’s first-round pick, Blake Rutherford, who is OPSing 1.055 in his first 24 games.
The Indians are playing for now, and the deal for Miller and attempt at Lucroy indicates they’re targeting a mediocre American League. As August dawns and they carry the AL’s best record into it, Cleveland has put the rest of the league on notice: Not only are they a team with good starting pitcher. They’re a team, even without Lucroy, that’s good enough to win the pennant.