1:48pm: The Tigers have announced the signing. It’s a one-year contract worth a guaranteed $3MM, the team announced. They also hold a club option worth $4.25MM and a $250K buyout.
The Tigers, who have recently begun announcing the full terms of their contracts, added that Miller can earn an extra $1.175MM per season via incentives. He’ll receive $100K bonuses for reaching each of 50, 55 and 60 games pitched, plus another $125K for reaching 65 and 70 appearances. If he winds up serving as the closer, there’s even more money to be unlocked. The contract calls for $150K bonuses for 40, 45, 50 and 55 games finished.
The value of the club option can also be boosted by $1.4MM. Those escalators are tied to appearances ($100K for 50, 55 and 60 games pitched; $150K for 65 and 70 games pitched) and games finished ($200K for finishing 40, 45, 50 and 55 games).
8:39am: It’s a one-year contract with a 2025 option, reports Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press. Miller is in Detroit for his physical today, Petzold adds, so the contract should become official soon.
8:26am: The Tigers have agreed to a deal with free agent right-hander Shelby Miller, reports Kiley McDaniel of ESPN. The contract is still pending a physical. Detroit’s 40-man roster is full, so they’ll need to make a corresponding move to accommodate this latest addition. Miller is represented by Excel Sports Management.
Miller, 33, enjoyed a resurgent season with the 2023 Dodgers, pitching to a brilliant 1.71 earned run average in 42 innings over 36 appearances (35 relief outings, one start). He fanned a strong 25.8% of his opponents against a bloated 11.7% walk rate and kept the ball on the ground at a 37.4% clip — a few percentage points below the league average. Miller’s fastball is down about a mile per hour from its peak levels, sitting at a league-average 93.6 mph, but he also brandished a newly implemented splitter in 2023, which flummoxed his opponents.
Prior to the 2023 season, Miller had thrown exactly one splitter in his career — way back in 2014. He threw the pitch 26.2% of the time this past season, however, and batters were largely helpless against it. Miller threw 174 splitters in 2023 and finished off 47 plate appearances with the pitch; opponents posted an awful .136/.191/.250 against the pitch in that sample. Statcast credited the pitch with a .170 “expected” opponents’ batting average and a .274 expected slugging percentage.
That marked Miller’s first successful season since back in 2015. While he’d shown flashes of promise in the interim seven years, injuries and poor performances were far more common for the former top prospect and once-promising young starter. The 19th overall pick by the Cardinals back in 2009, Miller debuted in St. Louis as a 21-year-old, pitched to an outstanding 3.22 ERA over his first 575 1/3 big league frames and was twice traded in blockbuster deals — first going from St. Louis to Atlanta in exchange for Jason Heyward and a year later going to Arizona in the trade that brought Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte to the Braves.
Miller struggled immediately with the D-backs and never found his footing before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017. At various points, his career looked to be on the brink, but he persevered through considerable struggles and now, in his mid-30s, looks to have found new life as a quality bullpen arm.
The Dodgers didn’t use him in high-leverage spots often last year, but Miller could have a clearer path to setup work in Detroit. Right-handers Alex Lange and Jason Foley are the primary ninth- and eighth-inning options, respectively, and Detroit brought lefty Andrew Chafin back on a one-year deal as a left-handed setup option as well. But Miller has a good bit more experience than the bulk of the Tigers’ relievers and could find himself in more tight, late-inning spots this season.
Miller becomes the latest addition in what’s been a nice offseason of veteran pickups for the Tigers. Detroit has added righty Kenta Maeda (two years, $24MM) to help stabilize a young pitching staff and also bought low on former Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty (one year, $14MM), who’ll look to return to his prior heights in a new setting. The Tigers kicked off the winter by acquiring Mark Canha from the Brewers and picking up his 2024 option; he’ll join the team’s outfield and DH mix this coming season. Chafin, as previously noted, is returning to Comerica Park, where he excelled in 2022 before struggling with Arizona and Milwaukee in 2023. He and Miller have the potential to meaningfully fortify the Detroit relief corps.
There’s still room for some further additions, be they in the bullpen, on the bench or perhaps around the infield, where Detroit still lacks some certainty at multiple positions. Some of those could come from the trade market rather than free agency, although president of baseball operations Scott Harris indicated this week that he doesn’t envision trading from his newly deepened rotation mix. Wherever further reinforcements come from, the Tigers’ 2024 outlook is already brighter than the 2023 group. It’s a deepened roster that, with some continued development from young players like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Kerry Carpenter and prospects like Colt Keith and Justyn-Henry Malloy, could emerge as a viable contender in a weak American League Central division.