Andrew Miller tries to ignore the trade rumors surrounding the New York Yankees, the identity crisis for a win-at-all-costs franchise trying to get younger and more athletic and prepare for the future without a total teardown.
But if the Yankees look in the mirror and ultimately decide to sell just before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the Cubs will be in those conversations, because a team with seven All Stars could use another for October.
“We’re here to win,” Miller said this week at U.S. Cellular Field during the Yankees-White Sox series. “We’re here to compete every year. And that’s from the top down, whether you hear it from (general manager Brian) Cashman or (manager Joe) Girardi or the players.
“That was a big selling point about me coming here — and the goal is to win here. That’s what I want to be a part of.”
The Cubs checked in with Miller’s camp during his free-agent process after the 2014 season but didn’t feel like getting into a bidding war to add a setup guy to an 89-loss team made that much sense.
If Miller on a four-year, $36 million contract looked like a luxury item then, he would be a perfect fit now, giving another late-inning weapon to Joe Maddon, arguably the game’s best bullpen manager. Watching Trevor Cahill serve up the go-ahead, three-run homer to Tucker Barnhart in the seventh inning of Wednesday afternoon’s 5-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds only reinforced that view at Wrigley Field.
Theo Epstein’s front office could justify the cost by looking at it as an investment in 2016 and beyond, acquiring an All-Star reliever who can close now and potentially impact three pennant races on the North Side.
“I love Andrew,” said pitcher Jon Lester, who played with Miller on the 2013 Boston Red Sox team that won the World Series. “I definitely would vouch for Andrew. Obviously, his stuff and stats speak for itself.
“And it would be nice to get him out of the Yankees organization and somewhere he could grow his beard and long hair back and we could call him ‘Jesus’ (Spanish pronunciation) again.”
Lester lobbied for Epstein to acquire Jonathan Papelbon last summer, saying a strong clubhouse culture could handle the enigmatic closer who got traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Washington Nationals and wound up choking Bryce Harper in the dugout.
Epstein’s Cubs keep going back to their Red Sox connections, but in signing a minor-league deal and reviving his career at Fenway Park, Miller formed more of a bond with Ben Cherington, the Boston personnel executive who eventually got hired and essentially fired as general manager.
For a Cubs team with a glaring bullpen need, Miller, 31, checks the boxes as a left-hander who can get all types of hitters out with velocity (94.1-mph average fastball) and swing-and-miss stuff (66 strikeouts through 36-plus innings this season).
Miller has size (6-foot-7), first-round pedigree (sixth overall out of the University of North Carolina in 2006), playoff experience, a strong clubhouse reputation and what’s turned out to be a reasonable contract.
“Great teammate,” said catcher David Ross, who played with Miller in Boston. “He’s had struggles. He’s had success. He’s won a World Series. So he knows about winning, he knows about losing. When you have guys who have gone through the spectrum like that in their careers, you just gain perspective. So you can relate to a lot of different guys at different times during the season.
“He’s a winner. He’s got nasty stuff. He throws mid-to-upper 90s with a filthy, filthy slider. Righties and lefties — it doesn’t matter. (Whatever) the matchup, he can get through the inning.
“He doesn’t have an ego. I’ve read his quotes in New York where it’s: ‘I don’t care if I’m closing.’ And that fits right into this team. We’re here as a 25-man group that is after one goal. And he understands that.”
As someone who got traded out of his Boston comfort zone to the Oakland A’s at the 2014 deadline, Lester recognizes the many dimensions to those deals, as well as the unique chemistry in Wrigleyville.
“At the same time, you’re talking about now we got to move some pieces around in that bullpen,” Lester said. “You get a guy like Andrew Miller, now you’re subtracting somehow, and that’s always tough when you’ve been grinding with guys (the whole year).
“(But) I know Andrew, and I think his personality would fit in just fine here. He wouldn’t have an issue with the transition — (and) that is a tough transition.
“I always go back to Joe. Joe does such a good job with situations. Whatever the situation may be, he does such a good job with making guys feel comfortable. So if we did get a guy like that, I think you would definitely get the best out of him.”
Lester — who believed in The Plan enough to join a last-place team after the 2014 season and signed a six-year, $155 million megadeal with the understanding that he would be in the loop — doesn’t know if Epstein’s group will think big again at the trade deadline.
“A lot can happen,” Lester said. “Hopefully, nobody goes down and we don’t have a dire need. Any time you’re talking about an addition, you’re going to have a subtraction. That’s always a tough thing. (But) I’d like to say: ‘Yeah, it would be awesome to get some big-name stud in here.’”
The Yankees woke up on Wednesday as a 41-42 team, stuck in fourth place in the American League East, but only four games out of a wild-card spot. Whether or not the Cubs are willing to pay the price for a brand-name reliever — or hoping to get lucky again with under-the-radar additions — it still starts with the Yankees either giving up on 2016 or going for it.
“That’s what the Yankees do,” Miller said. “Their track record shows that’s what we do. They haven’t had a losing record since ’92.
“The expectation is that we’re going to be in the thick of it. And I think the 25 guys in here think that we’re capable of winning enough games to be in it.”