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May 26, 2024
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Mason Miller Drawing Trade Attention

Mason Miller Drawing Trade Attention

The A’s are receiving early trade calls on closer Mason Miller , writes Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. While the team is at least broadly open to discussions, Rosenthal reports that no one has come close to what is understandably a huge ask.

Miller has been one of the league’s breakout players in 2024. It certainly didn’t come out of nowhere — he has been widely regarded as a Top 100 prospect in each of the last two years — but the second-year righty is already one of the best relievers in the game. Miller gave up two runs in his first appearance of the season against the Guardians. He hasn’t been scored on in 12 games since, and that understates his dominance.

The 25-year-old has recorded multiple strikeouts in all but two of his outings. He has fanned 33 of the 60 batters who have stepped in against him. That’s a laughable 55% rate. Among pitchers with at least 10 innings, Cincinnati’s Fernando Cruz ranks second with a 47.3% strikeout percentage. Only four qualified relievers — Devin Williams (during the abbreviated 2020 schedule), Aroldis Chapman (2014), Craig Kimbrel (2012) and Edwin Díaz (2022) — have ever maintained a strikeout rate north of 50% over a full season. Miller has induced swinging strikes on more than 21% of his pitches, a mark only narrowly topped by Cruz. He has paired that overwhelming stuff with strong control, issuing just four walks without hitting a batter.

[Related: The A’s Overpowering Closer]

It’s not difficult to understand why opponents haven’t had any success making contact. Miller’s stuff is off the charts. His fastball is averaging 100.8 MPH and can run into the 103-104 MPH range at its high end. He has paired it with an upper-80s slider that drew plus or better reviews from prospect evaluators and has been nearly unhittable. Opponents are coming up empty almost half the time they swing at both offerings.

Every bullpen would be massively upgraded with Miller at the back end. It’s entirely unsurprising that teams would look to pry him from Oakland and that the A’s would need a massive haul to consider it. On top of Miller’s dominance, he’s under affordable club control for years to come. He entered 2024 with less than one season of MLB service. He’s not on track to reach free agency until the end of the 2029 campaign. Miller is a lock to go through arbitration four times as a Super Two player, but that won’t begin until after next season.

The A’s are still deep into a rebuild despite a reasonable 18-21 start. They’re very unlikely to hang in the playoff mix this year, although they surely anticipate being a legitimate contender well within Miller’s window of team control. A player of this caliber who still has five-plus years of control being traded is essentially unheard of.

However, Miller’s status is at least somewhat clouded by an alarming injury history. He barely pitched in the minors in 2022 because of shoulder troubles. The A’s nevertheless called him up early last season to work from the rotation. Miller made four starts before being diagnosed with a UCL sprain in his elbow. He was shelved into September. The A’s used him out of the bullpen for 2-3 inning stints once he returned.

GM David Forst announced early last offseason the A’s would move Miller to late-inning relief this year in an effort to keep him healthy. They’ve maintained they’re not opposed to stretching him back out as a starter in ’25, although he may wind up being so impressive as a reliever the team chooses not to mess with success.

There’s no small amount of stress put on the arm of a pitcher who throws as hard as Miller does. The front office presumably has some concern about the possibility he suffers another significant injury. That would be the main argument for genuinely considering trade offers, though Miller also clearly has the talent to be a franchise building block. That’s particularly true if the A’s are serious about potentially moving him back to the rotation in 2025.

Significant trades this early in the season are rare, although the Padres and Marlins lined up on the  Luis Arraez swap last week. Teams will certainly continue trying to tempt the A’s as the deadline gets closer. Miller would be their most valuable trade chip, while players like  Paul Blackburn ,  Brent Rooker ,  Ross Stripling and  Alex Wood could draw attention.

Speculatively speaking,  Lucas Erceg could also emerge as one of the more intriguing relievers on the deadline market. A former third baseman, Erceg was a late convert to pitching whom the A’s acquired from the Brewers in a minor trade nearly a year ago. While he struggled to a 4.75 ERA over 55 innings as a rookie, he has been a key high-leverage arm for skipper Mark Kotsay in 2024. Erceg has managed 22 strikeouts over 15 frames of 3.60 ERA ball. His fastball is sitting in the 98-99 MPH range.

Erceg also has six years of team control, so there’s no urgency for the A’s to move him. He’s already 29 years old and not as overpowering as Miller, though, so he’s less likely to be a major long-term piece coming out of the rebuild.

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