As some Orioles fans watched the Cleveland Indians take a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Blue Jays, there were a number who wondered about Andrew Miller.
The Orioles showed little interest in re-signing Miller after the 2014 season, but were all about Darren O’Day a year later, they said.
Miller signed for four years and $36 million, and a year later, O’Day for four years and $31 million.
The situations were very different.
Everyone around the Orioles loved Miller. There was nothing not to love. In 20 innings, he struck out 34 and walked just four and had a Britton-like WHIP of 0.600.
In the postseason Miller was even better, giving up just one hit in 7 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walking one.
Miller has been nearly unhittable in this year’s postseason, allowing three hits in 7 2/3 innings to the fearsome Red Sox and Blue Jays lineups, and recording 17 strikeouts in 23 outs.
Why couldn’t the Orioles have kept him?
Miller liked his 10 weeks in Baltimore, and was popular among his teammates, and the Orioles didn’t make an effort to sign him, telling his agent they didn’t feel they could compete with a team like the Yankees, who signed him. He also may have had more lucrative offers from others.
After 2014, the Orioles lost not only Miller, but Nelson Cruz, who many fans still miss and Nick Markakis, and that offseason has generally been considered an awful one.
While the Orioles’ bullpen has continued to shine in the last two seasons, the production of Cruz and Markakis is still missed.
The Orioles tried to re-sign Cruz, but the Seattle Mariners were willing to give him a fourth year.
Two seasons into the four-year, $57 million contract, Cruz has continued to play well. He’s hit 87 home runs and driven in 198 runs while hitting .287.
Perhaps the primary reason the Orioles refused to give Cruz a fourth year was his age, but at 36, he had a better offensive season than his excellent one with the Orioles in 2014.
Last year, the Orioles made an organizational change. They decided that in order to compete they had to be more aggressive with free agents.
A year ago, no one would have dreamed a seven-year, $161 million contract for Chris Davis was possible, or that they’d pay that much for a relief pitcher.
The Orioles still probably won’t win many bidding wars over free agents. The biggest ones they’ve signed during the Dan Duquette era have been their own (Davis, O’Day Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters) or those at a deep discount because there wasn’t a great market for them (Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo and Pedro Alvarez).
In Feb. 2014, it was a stretch for the Orioles to sign Jimenez for four years, and after his poor initial season, the team was reluctant to offer four years to another free agent pitcher, and that’s why they weren’t going after Miller.
Even now, the four-year barrier could be difficult to overcome if they’re trying to extend Chris Tillman.
The money for Miller and O’Day isn’t quite as comparable as it looks, either.
Miller’s contract is for four years at $9 million a season while $4 million of O’Day’s $31 million is deferred.
The Orioles are hoping that O’Day rebounds smartly from his painful 2016 season when he missed more than the year with hamstring and shoulder injuries.
His 2016 production lagged. In 34 games, O’Day was 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA. The ERA was more than half again as much as his previous high with the Orioles (2.28 in 2012).
The Orioles thought they were taking a good risk with O’Day, who hadn’t suffered any disabling injuries in his first four seasons with the team.
They were heartened by his last three regular season outings (2 2/3 perfect innings), and the sharp five-out performance in the wild-card game.
Miller would have been wonderful to have, and it’s great to see the inventive way Terry Francona has been using him, but the bullpen is hardly the Orioles’ weakness.
With O’Day, Brad Brach, Zach Britton and Mychal Givens, it’s one of the game’s best.
While having Miller as part of that bullpen would be great, but it just wasn’t possible—or realistic.