With the American League champion Indians set for their first World Series appearance since 1997, team president Chris Antonetti revisited the crucial July trade that brought ace reliever Andrew Miller to Cleveland.
On acquiring the left-hander from the Yankees, Antonetti told Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com, “There is excitement about coming to terms for a guy that we targeted. At the same time, there was a pit in your stomach because we knew we were trading really good players. That is a hard thing for us to do. There is that dichotomy.”
The Indians faced serious leaguewide competition for Miller’s services, but they ultimately landed him after agreeing to part with a package that included outfielder Clint Frazier and southpaw Justus Sheffield – two highly regarded prospects. The negotiation for Miller was “excruciating,” said Antonetti, who engaged in 100-plus conversations and texts with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman from late June until the deal went through July 31.
“We felt a unique circumstance with Andrew; with all the elements he brought to the table, it was worth paying a very steep price,” commented Antonetti.
Miller has been worth the price so far, having carried his regular-season brilliance into the playoffs. The 31-year-old won ALCS MVP honors after throwing seven shutout innings and striking out 14 without issuing a walk in the Indians’ five-game elimination of the Blue Jays. Previously, in Cleveland’s three-game ALDS sweep over Boston, Miller tossed four scoreless frames with seven strikeouts and two walks. Miller has recorded between four and eight outs in each of his six playoff appearances this year, which is what the Indians had in mind when they were attempting to acquire him.
“We envisioned using him like we are,” revealed manager Terry Francona, who discussed how the team would deploy Miller with Antonetti and pitching coach Mickey Callaway prior to the trade.
Before Cashman dealt Miller, he had to convince Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner that it was the right path to take. With the Yankees hanging around the wild-card race, Steinbrenner wasn’t on board with moving Miller after the club had already dealt closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs. That changed when the Rays swept the Yankees in a late-July series leading up to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, paving the way for the end of Miller’s year-plus run in the Bronx.
“Once the medicals cleared for both sides, then it was a pit in my stomach that I have the most difficult job of all in calling Andrew Miller,” said Cashman. “Andrew, he didn’t want to go anywhere. He loved playing here. Andrew was everything you want. Unfortunately, we had a lot of areas that need to be addressed, so unfortunately he was part of that type of solution.”
Given that Miller is under team control through 2018 at a reasonable $9MM per year, the Yankees “needed two twin firstborns” to deal him, Cashman quipped. For his part, Antonetti told Marchand he’s “confident that the guys we traded away will make a big impact with the Yankees.”
That may indeed prove true for Frazier and Sheffield. In the meantime, Miller has made an enormous mark on the Indians, who are four wins away from their first championship since 1948. Miller and the Tribe will face the Cubs and his former New York bullpen mate, Chapman, in a battle of franchises that own the majors’ longest championship droughts. If the Cubs are going to break through for the first time since 1908, their best bet is to jump on the Indians early in games and avoid Miller, the 2016 postseason’s most dominant force.