There’s plenty of chatter about the Brewers potentially trading their ace, but Milwaukee is also maintaining some continuity on the starting staff, announcing on Monday that they’ve re-signed veteran southpaw Wade Miley to a one-year deal with a 2025 mutual option. Miley, a client of O’Connell Sports Management, will reportedly be guaranteed $8.5MM in the form of a $7MM salary and a $1.5MM buyout on a $12MM mutual option.
The contract also gives Miley the opportunity to earn another $2.5MM via innings-based incentives. He’d receive $250K bonuses for reaching both 50 and 75 innings, plus another $500K upon reaching 100 innings and $750K for reaching both 125 and 150 innings pitched. Miley also secured a limited no-trade clause and would be paid a $1MM assignment bonus in the event that he’s traded.
Miley, who pitched for Milwaukee in 2018 and again in 2023, will now return for a third stint with the Brew Crew. While he just turned 37 years old a couple weeks ago, the left-hander’s age hasn’t been showing in his recent results. After pitching to a sharp 3.16 ERA in 37 innings during an injury-shortened year with the ’22 Cubs, Miley started 23 games and gave the ’23 Brewers 120 1/3 innings of nearly identical 3.14 ERA ball.
Although Miley’s strikeout rate continues to sit close to the bottom of the league (16.1% in 2023), he’s offset that lack of punchouts with better-than-average command (7.8% walk rate) and a knack for avoiding hard contact. Miley’s 87.3 mph average exit velocity ranked in the 83rd percentile of big league pitchers, and his 31.1% hard-hit rate checked into the 93rd percentile.
Back in 2016-17, Miley’s career had hit something of a crossroads. He’d posted an ERA well north of 5.00 in two consecutive seasons and had to settle for a minor league deal with the Brewers ahead of the 2018 season. He revived his career in Milwaukee, pitching to a 2.57 ERA in 80 1/3 frames, and with the exception of a brief injury-ruined 2020 showing with Cincinnati (5.65 ERA in 14 1/3 innings), the left-hander has been an effective big league starter ever since. Dating back to the 2018 resurgence, Miley sports a 3.43 ERA in 582 2/3 innings.
Miley’s return to the Brewers comes amid ample uncertainty regarding the team’s rotation. The Brewers made the difficult decision to non-tender Brandon Woodruff after it was learned he’d miss the majority of the 2024 season following capsule surgery in his right shoulder. Co-ace Corbin Burnes’ name has flown about the rumor mill frequently in the first month-plus of the offseason, given his status as a free agent next winter. Burnes is expected to test free agency rather than sign an extension, leaving Brewers GM Matt Arnold with another painful decision: hang onto Burnes and hope for one final playoff push with the former NL Cy Young winner, or trade him now and receive substantially more value than Burnes would fetch upon declining a qualifying offer next winter.
At least for now, Burnes slots into the top of the rotation ahead of right-hander Freddy Peralta. Miley gives the Crew a quality third option behind that pair, and Milwaukee still has righties Adrian Houser and Colin Rea for fourth and fifth options, to say nothing of left-hander Aaron Ashby. Milwaukee also has a reported one-year agreement with former Nationals righty Joe Ross, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2021 due to injuries but has at times looked like a viable mid-rotation arm. Ross had a second career Tommy John surgery in 2022, so given the recent layoff from pitching, it’s possible he’s viewed more as a swingman option anyhow.
With Miley back in the fold, the Brewers’ projected payroll will land somewhere between $106-116MM (depending on how this morning’s extension for top prospect Jackson Chourio breaks down). That’s a bit shy of last year’s $118MM Opening Day mark. Potential trades of Burnes and/or shortstop Willy Adames could dramatically alter that outlook, as could further free agent additions.
In many ways, the 2024 season will be something of a transitional year for the Brewers with or without its longtime ace atop the rotation. The Brewers already lost manager Craig Counsell to the rival Cubs, and they’re likely turning center field over to Chourio, who just made history by signing the largest contract ever inked by a player with no Major League service time. Miley affords some continuity on the pitching staff, but the Brewers’ core is in the process of turning over.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported yesterday that Miley and the Brewers were expected to finalize a new deal and first broke the news of the agreement on a one-year deal and mutual option. ESPN’s Jesse Rogers first reported the financial terms and incentive package. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported the no-trade protection. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale added the assignment bonus upon being traded.