December 24, 2004

Red Sox, Miller and mayor rejoice!

Tuesday was a banner day for Wade Miller, the Boston Red Sox, and Larry Werst, the mayor of Topton, Pa.

The long-time mayor and avid Boston Red Sox fan woke up saw the front page of the Reading Eagle sports section with the news that Topton's favorite son was headed to Beantown.

The Red Sox signed the Topton native and Douglassville resident to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, with $3 million in performance bonuses, based on innings and roster time.

The Red Sox and GM Theo Epstein were the most aggressive players in his pursuit, with Epstein already making inquiries about his health at the Winter Meetings. In 48 hours as a free agent, he received calls from several teams, including the Athletics and Diamondbacks.

Miller frayed his rotator cuff halfway through 2004 and missed the rest of the season with the Astros. Before that, Miller was 7-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 15 starts before going on the disabled list June 29. His best seasons were in 2001 and 2002, when he was 16-8 with a 3.40 ERA in '01 and 15-4 with a 3.28 ERA in '02.

In 2003, he pitched through a pinched nerve and was 14-13 with a 4.13 ERA. Doctors believe the pain is what led to the frayed cuff, causing him to change delivery.

Rather than risk it, the Astros didn’t offer him a contract Monday, but with only $1.5 million at stake, the risk is already well worth it for the Red Sox. He passed his Wednesday physical and will resume throwing as normal in January.

"The latest exams show full range of motion, excellent strength throughout the shoulder and rotator cuff," Epstein said in an AP article. "We're very optimistic that he's going to have success when he starts throwing in a couple of weeks."

When healthy, Epstein feels certain Miller can be a top of the rotation pitcher.

"Wade's got the kind of makeup and he’s got the kind of stuff that we think can succeed in Boston," Epstein said.

BPF take

Wade got his wish and signed with a contender, although the Mets were his favorite team growing up.

Not to play favorites, but looking at the money middle-rotation free agents signed for (Kris Benson, three-year, $22.5 million; Russ Ortiz, four years, $33 million), Wade’s deal looks like one of the best, if not the best, steals of winter. The Transaction Guy agrees:

This could end being the best signing of the off-season. First the potential downsides: Miller is rehabbing a rotator cuff injury, has had neck problems throughout his career, and has what might be generously described as an "ideosyncratic" delivery — he gets his shoulder way ahead of his hips, leaving all the stress there. As it follows through, the arm "flings" through, rather than being rotated or "whipped." He also has a tendency to throw across his body, all of which means he has to be considered an elevated injury risk.

Now for the positive stuff. He's been a solidly above-average pitcher his whole career, he has good command of as many as five pitches, he comes cheap, and he won't be a free agent until after the 2006 season, which means the Red Sox would have first crack at retaining him next year.

The incentives could earn him another $3.0M, and if he's healthy and effective enough to meet those incentives, $4.5M will still be a deal.

Why, exactly, did the Astros non-tender him?

The bottom-feeding Red Sox
The Red Sox now have one of the deepest rotations in baseball, and didn’t necessarily break the bank for it.

BPF writer Will Travel points out that besides the higher-profile signings, the late-winter, Pirate-esque acquisitions of SP John Halama (one-year, $1 million), RP Matt Mantei (one-year, $750,000) and Wade Miller are injury risks, but shouldn’t be counted out as potential prizes from an expensive winter.


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