The beginning of the Andrew Miller era produced a lasting impact on the Cleveland Indians in the months of August, September and October of 2016. Acquired at the trade deadline last July, the 31-year-old lefty lessened the workloads of Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen by tirelessly pitching in nearly every high leverage situation.
Not only did Miller demoralize opposing hitters, but he also fit perfectly into the bullpen mold by bridging the gap between a superior starting rotation and a consistent closer.
Now with the addition of Boone Logan, the quintet consisting of Dan Otero, Allen, Shaw, Miller and Logan figures to be one of the best in the history of the franchise.
By dealing a package of four prospects to the New York Yankees, two of which were former first round picks, the Tribe unlocked a new level of potential with Miller. The lanky southpaw recorded a bevy of career-bests in wins (10), ERA (1.45), strikeouts (123) and WHIP (0.69) in 2016.
The former UNC standout rose to the pressures of the postseason by not allowing a run in his first 16 frames (16 IP, 7 H, 0 R/ER, 4 BB, 27 K) and earning an ALCS MVP award along the way. If it were not for Miller’s unraveling in the fifth and sixth innings in Game 7 of the World Series, he may have solidified his legacy with a perfect playoff performance.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Miller finds himself in the same role with the same team under the same management. While a repeat of what he did last postseason is unlikely, Miller’s motivation to bring a title to Cleveland remains the same.
What to expect: Miller will represent the United States at the World Baseball Classic from March 6-22. As a result, his innings this spring will be limited so he can effectively pitch deep into October and November as he did in 2016. Expect Miller to appear in the seventh and eighth innings of tightly knit affairs with an occasional save opportunity mixed in (49 career saves).
When Miller booked his flight for Cleveland, there was concern that he may take Allen’s spot as the new closer. Manager Terry Francona quickly put this belief to rest when he decided to use Miller in the compelling moments of any given ballgame rather than the ninth inning.
Allen has quietly strung together four consecutive campaigns with a sub-3.00 ERA and has at least 28 saves from 2014-16. As a 23rd round pick with a meteoric rise through the Indians pipeline (98 MiLB innings), Allen’s odds-defying career continues to trend upward.
In light of the 28-year-old signing a one-year deal worth $7.35-million and avoiding arbitration, Allen has secured his name into the closer’s role for 2017.
What to expect: While positional battles at the catcher and center field positions have yet to be decided, the structure of the bullpen is set in stone. Count on Allen to be the everyday closer and match his consistent performance over the last four seasons.
Not too many fans were familiar with Shaw when the Tribe acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade in December of 2012. His major league stats were respectable from 2011-12, but a 1-6 record and 1.42 WHIP were enough to leave fans skeptical of what kind of reliever the Indians were getting.
Shaw is unique in that he primarily throws a cutter using a herky-jerky delivery. According to MLB.com’s Statcast technology, the Long Beach State product’s average cutter velocity is 94.21 mph, crushing the big league average of 88.32 mph. Shaw found his knack in the seventh and eighth innings as evidenced by his career-high 25 holds in 75 appearances in 2016.
The lone flaw for the 29-year-old to correct this spring will be his command. Shaw had a 3.8 BB/9 and tied his previous career high for total walks in a season with 28 (2013). With his funky delivery and a high-speed offering with plenty of movement, it is no wonder Shaw led the American League in games pitched (75) with an impressive strikeout rate of 9.32 K/9 to boot.
What to expect: Just like Allen, Shaw avoided a potential arbitration hearing by signing a one-year deal for $4.6-million. Considering what the franchise got out of a flame-throwing reliever pitching in the prime of his career, this bargain of a contract could go a long way toward a prosperous 2017 season. To put this point in perspective, under performing hurlers like Antonio Bastardo ($6.62-million), Chris Young ($5.75-million) and John Axford ($5.5-million) will all be making more money than Shaw in 2017.
The unpredictable nature of Kyle Crockett concerned the Indians front office this off-season and prompted the recent acquisition of Logan. Traditionally, Colorado Rockies pitchers are not hot commodities on the free agent market with inflated stats due to the thin Denver air.
This is not the case for Logan.
The 32-year-old southpaw has thrived against left-handed bats over the course of his career as supported by their meager .233/.308/.361 slash line. At Coors Field, batters notched minimal averages of .171/.269/.280 in 2016.
Logan is 32-years-old, but showed resilience in 2016 with a 3.69 ERA in 66 games (46.1 IP, 27 H, 23 R, 19 ER, 20 BB, 57 K) after struggling mightily in 2014 (25 IP, 6.84 ERA) and 2015 (35.1 IP, 4.33 ERA). If lefties fail vs Logan as they have done over the last five years (.215/.293/.341), then the Cleveland bullpen will elevate to new heights this year.
What to expect: The former Temple College standout was signed to give Francona more than one reliable southpaw in his pen. As shown in the later stages of the 2016 campaign, the Tribe skipper is not afraid to cut his starter short and employ his bullpen if the situation calls for it. Logan slots himself directly into this position as a player who is comfortable pitching at any point in a ballgame to yield a favorable matchup.
He does not jump out at you, but Otero sure knows how to keep the ball low in the zone courtesy of a 2.36 GO/AO ratio, 0.91 WHIP and 11 GIDP (career-high). Similar to Shaw, Otero does not feature a four-seam fastball as his primary pitch. His sinker has an average speed of 90.93 mph (MLB average is 91.79 mph), but hitters could not make solid contact on the well-located offering (87.82 mph exit velocity).
Francona referred to Otero as the “wild card” of the club because he emerged back onto the MLB scene after a dismal 2015 with the Oakland Athletics (2-4, 6.75 ERA, 46.2 IP, 64 H). If the 31-year-old can string together two consecutive successful seasons as he did in 2013 (39 IP, 1.38 ERA) and 2014 (86.2 IP, 2.28 ERA), then the bullpen should live up to its high expectations beginning this spring.
What to expect: Consistency is key for Otero. His $1.055-million contract from early January helped him avoid the dreaded arbitration case making him a likely candidate to sustain his role as a middle inning reliever amid a premium bullpen unit.
McAllister was another arbitration eligible player this offseason. The former Yankees farmhand signed a one-year contract worth $1.825-million after posting a 3.44 ERA and 9.29 K/9 in 52.1 innings of work. Hampered by right hip discomfort that sidelined him for 22 days in mid-July, McAllister worked his way onto all three postseason rosters but surrendered three earned runs in just three frames.
Because of McAllister’s latest deal, it is pretty much a guarantee he returns to his middle inning role alongside Otero. The 29-year-old was bred to be a starting pitcher through his tenure at the minor league level (155 appearances, 139 starts), but eventually transitioned to a relief pitcher thanks to his sizzling four-seam fastball (95.08 average mph) and lack of much else in his arsenal.
What to expect: The Tribe wanted to keep their bullpen core intact and the re-signing of McAllister justifies that notion. Only Jeff Manship has left the active roster, leaving the middle-relief roles in the hands of Otero and McAllister.
Perci Garner / Shawn Armstrong / Nick Goody / Joseph Colon
These four players group together because they are all right-handed relievers vying for the final spot in the pen this spring. The common denominator among the pack is a lack of experience with an average age of 26.25 and only 72.2 combined major league innings.
All four arms are fully capable of striking hitters out with at least 8.9 K/9 in their brief MLB tenures, but getting ahead of hitters and commanding the ball is a lingering issue. Goody stands out in this bunch with the most MLB appearances (34), innings (34.2), strikeouts (37) and given he has pitched under the watchful eyes of the New York Yankees fan base.
What to expect: Expect at least one of these names to be on the big league roster come opening day. With Allen, Shaw, Otero and McAllister all avoiding arbitration, there are few openings on a roster that has most of its pieces already in place.
Kyle Crockett / Shawn Morimando / Hoby Milner
Now that Boone Logan is officially in an Indians uniform, these three southpaws move further down the depth chart and act as secondary options to Miller or Logan if an injury arises. Crockett is at the forefront of this discussion but Morimando and Milner have flourished throughout their MiLB careers.
According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Morimando is in line to pitch out of the bullpen while Ryan Merritt becomes another starting rotation candidate. This designation shows the organization’s lack of trust for Crockett who has seen his ERA rise from 1.80 to 4.08 to 5.06 from 2014-16. The former fourth round pick out of Virginia dominates the MLB experience department with 63.2 innings pitched, but lacks the upside of the 24-year-old Morimando (152.1 IP, 3.25 ERA, 15 W, 1.30 WHIP, 7.0 K/9 in 2016) and the 26-year-old Milner (65 IP, 2.49 ERA, 5 W, 1.11 WHIP, 10.5 K/9 in 2016).
What to expect: Unless Miller or Logan find themselves on the disabled list, Morimando and Crockett will stay put at Triple-A Columbus. Milner is the wildcard as he is a Rule 5 pick and has to make the team out of spring training or be sent back to the Phillies. If the Indians like what they see in him this spring, they may go out of their way to keep him around and see what he can do - even if it means having three left-handed relievers in the opening day bullpen. Morimando has profiled as a starter during his minor league career (132 starts, 3 relief outings) and should remain in that role until a major league opportunity in the bullpen becomes available.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.