Wade Miley remade himself into one of baseball’s best comeback stories in 2018. After signing a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers last February, he delivered 16 starts and 80.2 innings of 2.57 ERA baseball, helping pave the way to a first place finish in the NL Central. He then logged 14.2 more innings across four postseason starts, allowing only two earned runs.
And for all his efforts, Miley was rewarded with a deal that barely amounts to a raise over his 2018 salary.
After drawing a $2.5 mil base salary and earning at least a portion of his $3.2 mil incentive package (which maxed out at 29 starts and 190 innings), Wade Miley settled for a one-year, $4.5 mil deal with the Houston Astros for the upcoming season. He can earn another $500K through available incentives, but Miley and his camp were probably at least a little disappointed that he was unable to land the multiyear deal he reportedly sought this winter.
Now, Miley didn’t earn his success by following what seems to have become the standard template for a big league pitcher these days; his 5.58 K/9 rate was the lowest of his career and his fastball typically sits in the 90-91 MPH range (though he did generate swinging strikes at a higher rate than his norm). Instead, the left-hander leaned heavily on his cutter to suppress home runs and keep the ball on the ground. Run estimators like FIP- (87) and DRA- (92) still viewed his work quite favorably, and as our own Jack Stern dug into recently, Miley’s underlying metrics improved as the season went on and there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll be able to perform at an above-average rate again next season.
One would think that those results would have translated into something more than the 53rd-highest guarantee given to a free agent this offseason. He’ll earn less during the coming year than Trevor Rosenthal, who didn’t throw a single MLB pitch during 2018, and his salary will be lower than Garrett Richards, who might not take the mound at all in 2019.
This is free agency in the present era.
At that price, Wade Miley would have been only the 10th-highest paid player on David Stearns’ roster next season. But after some early hints of mutual interest in a return early on in the offseason, it became apparent that the newly-minted President of Baseball Operations (and GM) had no designs of bringing Miley back to suit up for the Menomonee Valley Nine during the coming campaign.
The Brewers expressed some early interest in bringing Wade Miley back but it never got serious.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 1, 2019
Instead, as he’s steadfastly done since taking over the job in Milwaukee, Stearns continued to profess faith in the stable of pitchers that he’s amassed over the last several years. “We have confidence in the group of starters we are bringing back and look forward to watching some of our younger guys who contributed to our postseason run,” he told Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel.
And why wouldn’t Stearns and company feel good about the group they have? It’s become clear that Milwaukee’s “ace” is the club’s dynamite bullpen, so as long as the initial out-getters can keep the game close while turning over the lineup twice, the team should have a good chance at winning. The 11 hurlers who toed the slab to begin a game for the Brewers last season produced baseball’s 11th-lowest starting pitcher ERA. According to Marcel projections available from Baseball-Reference, the current cache of starting pitching depth is expected to perform similarly well under new (and highly praised) pitching coach Chris Hook in 2019.
Milwaukee Brewers 2019 Marcel Projections
The Brewers currently have 11 pitchers on with MLB experience who they could reasonably ask to start games in 2019, though how much Jimmy Nelson and Brent Suter will be available is still in question due to health reasons. Rising prospects Zack Brown, Trey Supak, and Marcos Diplan, among others, could also theoretically factor into the mix if needed. Though this group may lack in big-name recognition, the amount of useful depth already present provides Slingin’ Stearns with the perfect excuse for passing on Wade Miley, even at the piddling price he wound up commanding.
Rumors continue to swirl about Milwaukee’s possible interest in the likes of Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, and Madison Bumgarner, but at this point it seems more likely that the Brewers are content to bring the arms that they already have to Maryva...er, Brewers Fields of Phoenix, when pitchers and catchers report later this month. If they do make any more additions, they’ll probably be more along the lines of what Miley was last season - a veteran hurler forced to settle for an absurdly cheap or even minor league contract due to the slowness of the free agent market. It’s sad that this is what baseball has come to under the terms of the current CBA, but we’ll soon find out just how “team-friendly” the deals are that second-tier guys like Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Gio Gonzalez, and others may be forced into signing if they want to pitch in 2019.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs