Chernoff expects to field interest in Miller

Indians GM hopes closer will be part of club's 2017 blueprint

Chernoff expects to field interest in Miller

CLEVELAND -- After Andrew Miller's incredible regular season and historic postseason, Indians general manager Mike Chernoff expects his phone to be buzzing this offseason. Cleveland gave up a lot to acquire the ace reliever and could surely recoup some of the prospects lost with another blockbuster deal.

When the Indians reeled in Miller from the Yankees in exchange for four prospects in August, flipping him this offseason was not part of the plan. Cleveland wanted to strengthen its bullpen and use Miller's left arm to lead the way to a World Series triumph. The Indians fell one win shy of reaching that goal, but are positioned to return with the same relief corps for another run in 2017.

"I'm guessing we're going to get a whole lot of calls as long as we have him," Chernoff said Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. "You talk about so many players during the course of an offseason. But, when you talk about players with exceptional talent like Andrew has, you're going to get even more. Yes, I would expect a lot there."

Fielding calls is not the same as shopping a player, though.

Especially in light of Cleveland falling short of defeating the Cubs in the World Series, Miller looks to be a big part of the Indians' blueprint for next year. The veteran left-hander is under contract for $9 million in each of the next two seasons and his impact on the bullpen was immediate. Manager Terry Francona utilized Miller as a leverage weapon in a variety of innings, allowing the skipper to better align his other arms in favorable situations.

The entire bullpen improved once Miller joined the fold after the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and Cleveland could come back with the same group. Closer Cody Allen, setup men Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero, and righties Zach McAllister and Jeff Manship are all eligible for arbitration this offseason. With the exception of Shaw (in his final year of arbitration), those arms are under control through at least 2018.

Allen, who is not eligible for free agency until 2019, earned $4.15 million last season and could make more than $7 million next year. Shaw made $2.75 million last season and could see his salary climb north of $4 million for '17. McAllister ($1.3 million through arbitration last year) and Manship ($760,000) will be due for raises, along with Otero, who will hit arbitration for the first time.

"Those guys will get their raises, expected raises in arbitration," Chernoff said. "But, it's still at a manageable level. And Andrew is under contract already, so I don't think there will be any drastic swings to the payroll."

To land Miller, the Indians sent outfielder Clint Frazier and lefty Justus Sheffield, along with hard-throwing relief prospects Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen, to the Yankees. Frazier and Sheffield are currently ranked No. 1 and No. 6, respectively, on New York's Top 30 prospects list, according to MLBPipeline.com. That was a steep price to pay for an Indians team that needs to build its foundation through drafting and developing.

"We gave up a lot, but it's all about winning," Indians owner Paul Dolan said during the playoffs. "And we were positioned to win this year and it's very clear now that Andrew Miller was the big difference in terms of getting us there, because of what he meant to our pitching staff and our bullpen, particularly."

After Miller joined Cleveland's bullpen, the Indians' relief corps ranked first in the American League in opponents' average, opponents' on-base percentage, Fielding Independent Pitching, baserunners per nine innings and WHIP. Over the final two months, Tribe relievers also ranked second in the AL in strikeouts and opponents' OPS, and third in ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Miller, Allen, Shaw, Otero and McAllister -- Francona's main five relievers last season -- posted a combined 1.76 ERA with a .192/.235/.287 opponents' slash line in 127 2/3 innings over the last two months of the year.

"[Miller has] made a huge impact on our team," Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said recently. "His willingness to do whatever to help the team win and pitch in any role, any inning, at any team Tito called upon him, made that in some respects unique. It's a huge competitive advantage for us, but it's also part of a bigger collective mindset.

"For Andrew to do what Andrew did, we had to have other members of the bullpen have that same collective mindset."

Cleveland is confident it still has a recipe for a deep postseason run.

"We look at it as a position of strength heading into the offseason," Antonetti said of the bullpen. "We've got a lot of high quality of relievers that we feel comforting turning to the ball over to in the late innings."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.