Mason Miller Would Make Nice Addition, Just Not at Insanely Steep Cost

Mason Miller throws the hardest four-seamer in MLB with an average of 100.9 mph and he’s struck out a staggering 38 of the 67 batters he’s faced with just five walks over 18.1 innings this season. He already has eight saves for an A’s team that figures to finish well below .500 as it spirals further into obscurity on its quest to leave Oakland for Las Vegas. Shutdown closers are always in high demand and Miller is at the top of everyone’s list because he’s only 25 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2026 with his free agency not scheduled until 2030.

Ken Rosenthal reported last week that teams are calling the A’s about Miller, though no one has come close to Oakland’s understandably exorbitant asking price. That’s why the flame-throwing righty is expected to stay put despite what will surely be continued interest, per Bob Nightengale. Because Miller is still on his rookie deal, even the disgustingly cheap A’s can afford to keep him around through at least next season.

Between his talent and five more years of club control, acquiring him would take the kind of prospect package you only consider if you’re in the throes of desperation. The Cubs, who have a wealth of highly-coveted prospects and a bullpen ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, may be teetering on recklessness as they “won’t be picky” in their search for “any good reliever.” While they are surely among the teams checking in on Miller, the trade pitch from Bleacher Report’s Zachary D. Rymer would require Jed Hoyer to have slipped into insanity.

Listed as the best fit for Miller, Rymer has the Cubs parting with top-100 prospects Kevin Alcántara, Owen Caissie, and James Triantos in return. As the legendary John Shaft once said, “Not at these prices, baby.”

Look, I get that Miller is the sexiest pitcher in baseball right now. That tends to happen when you can pop 103+ mph and throw more triple-digit heaters than anyone in baseball, though he’ll eventually be surpassed on that front by Paul Skenes just based on the latter’s higher volume. Miller also has a 70-grade slider and a 60-grade changeup. He’s young, he’s cheap, he’s the game’s best strikeout artist. What’s not to love?

Uh, well, the risk-reward ratio is pretty wonky. There’s no doubt a lights-out stopper in the 9th inning can be the difference between contention and actually winning, but giving up three of your top six prospects doesn’t make sense for a guy whose value is so dependent on other factors. As good as Miller is, he can’t save or hold games if the Cubs aren’t winning. And since this isn’t about pushing all-in on one year, Hoyer might want to have some of those prospects to help out in the future.

I can easily see parting with one of that trio, especially with how the outfield is currently set up, just not all three.

Another factor is that the injury risk is very real with Miller, and I’m not on some rant about high velocity and the inevitability of arm issues. He’s had issues in the past and the simple fact of the matter is that there’s a non-zero chance for any pitcher to suffer a serious injury or a series of lesser ones that force him to miss time and could lead to the serious diminution of his skills. Even if he remains relatively healthy, the potential fluctuation in his performance moving forward is a real consideration.

One other factor the Cubs must weigh is the possibility that Ben Brown could ascend to the role of closer in the immediate future. I know they like him as a multi-inning reliever right now, but it’s not like they’ve got a lot of other viable options. Adbert Alzolay was lost before going to the IL with a right flexor strain, Héctor Neris has walked more batters than he’s struck out, and Mark Leiter Jr. is much better in a more situational role.

If Brown is able to handle save situations with similar aplomb to what he’s shown since his debut outing, how much better would Miller have to be to justify a monster haul in return? As exciting as he is, I just can’t imagine a scenario in which meeting the asking price makes sense.

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