Lefty gets four-year deal, could set up or close; shortstop may begin '15 in platoon with Ryan
By Bryan Hoch
The Yankees are heading to the Winter Meetings as noisemakers, having created ripples with a busy Friday afternoon that saw them sign left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36 million deal and trigger a three-team trade to acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius from the D-backs.
The signing of Miller, 29, promises to give manager Joe Girardi another strong option in the back of the bullpen. It also provides the Yankees with a security blanket while closer David Robertson tests the open market, entertaining thoughts of trying on a different uniform next season.
"We did not sign Miller and tell him anything about, 'You're our closer,'" general manager Brian Cashman said. "His signing had everything to do with diversifying and giving ourselves a high-end weapon to go along with what we already have and what we continue to reinforce."
Miller has earned a reputation as one of the league's best setup men, going 5-5 with a 2.02 ERA and one save in 73 appearances with the Red Sox and the Orioles this season. He struck out 14.9 batters per nine innings and held opponents to a .153 (33-for-216) batting average.
The deal is the richest issued to a setup man, eclipsing the three-year, $35 million pact that Rafael Soriano scored from the Yankees before the 2011 season. It is possible that Miller could team with All-Star right-hander Dellin Betances to provide a dynamite one-two punch in the late innings.
The Dodgers, Astros and the Red Sox were among the other clubs linked to Miller, who has posted effective numbers against both righties (.163 batting average in 2014) and lefties (.145).
Cashman said that Miller had a $40 million, four-year offer in hand from another club -- MLB.com has confirmed that it was from Houston -- prompting the Yanks to bump their offer to $9 million per season.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Miller told MLB Network. "I had some great offers that really humbled me and I was really appreciative of. Honestly, the Yankees offered some things that other teams couldn't. It was a good fit for my family and I've seen first hand what the Yankees are all about and what their goals are.
"It's something that I want to be a part of. I thought it was a great fit for me and a great chance to win."
Cashman indicated that adding Miller does not necessarily preclude the Yankees from also bringing back Robertson, who is also said to be in the market for a four-year deal that could exceed $50 million, using Jonathan Papelbon's deal with the Phillies as a benchmark.
"I can't predict [what will happen]," Cashman said. "David Robertson has been a tremendous Yankee, a world champion Yankee, and he nailed down that closer's role following Mariano Rivera. Nothing but bouquets to throw his way for everything he did on and off the field."
News of Miller's signing broke shortly after the Yankees announced the swap with the D-backs and Tigers that could produce Derek Jeter's replacement in Gregorius, who will turn 25 in February and is regarded as a solid defender with potential to improve at the plate.
To complete that deal, the Yankees shipped right-hander Shane Greene to the Tigers, while the D-backs acquired southpaw Robbie Ray and Minor League infielder Domingo Leyba from Detroit.
Greene was 5-4 with a 3.78 ERA over 15 outings (14 starts) for New York and could have competed for a rotation spot in the spring. Cashman said that he "had no interest in trading him," but the Tigers had asked about Greene several times this winter.
"Three days ago we talked again; [Cashman] said, 'If you have any way to get Gregorius from Arizona, we would trade Greene for him,'" Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said.
Gregorius batted .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs over 80 games with the D-backs last season, and the left-handed hitter has posted a .243/.313/.366 batting line in 191 games over parts of three Major League seasons.
The Yankees have repeatedly expressed interest in Gregorius, and this offseason, they weighed his availability against a return engagement with Stephen Drew, as well as other free agents like Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera.
"I was just not prepared to go into 2015 without a comfort level that we felt we had a legitimate shortstop or combination thereof that can support the defense and support our pitching," Cashman said. "That's what led to the final decision to push through on this."
Cashman said that his tentative plan is to begin the year with a platoon at shortstop, where Gregorius would face right-handed pitching and Brendan Ryan takes most of the at-bats against lefties. Gregorius posted a .706 OPS against righties in 2014, but just a .424 mark in 51 at-bats against southpaws.
"We think there's more in the tank there as he continues to develop," Cashman said. "I think he's an exciting talent, but obviously he's not a finished product."