When looking at the Diamondbacks’ trade assets, Brandon McCarthy, Joe Thatcher, Oliver Perez, Cody Ross, Aaron Hill and a healthy Bronson Arroyo were no-brainers. Brad Ziegler and Gerardo Parra were in the depends-on-what-we-get-back category. Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock were clearly in the get-your-damn-hands-off-my-young-stars category. In Ryan’s previous discussion of trade assets, one guy that gave me pause was Wade Miley. Let me explain.
Miley is a valuable player. He provides a quantity of innings at a reasonable level of quality. He’s an average or slightly better pitcher from the left side whose durability carries a lot of value, especially considering that he’s made essentially the league minimum each of the last three years. Assuming he stays on his current 2014 pace, he will have contributed over 8 WAR in three major league seasons for a grand total of $1.5 million in salary. Considering that the Diamondbacks will be lucky to get 1 WAR from Bronson Arroyo and his $23.5 million investment, Miley and others (like A.J. Pollock and Chris Owings) are essentially subsidizing Arizona’s poor acquisitions.
So we’ve established that his production has vastly outweighed his cost so far, but will it continue to do so? The short answer is yes, for now. Miley will enter arbitration this winter and file for higher salary than he’s been making. He compares relatively well to Doug Fister of the Nationals, although Fister has had slightly more production. Neither are lights-out, strikeout machines and instead rely on limited walks and weak contact to survive. Fister received $4 million in 2013, his first arbitration year, and $7.2 million prior to 2014 with a chance at $10 million in 2015 if he can stay healthy the rest of the season. If we assume that Miley is at least 75% as good as Fister, Miley should be in line for $3 million next year, $5.5 million in 2016 and $7.5 million in 2017. At those prices, which may be conservative, he’s much less of a bargain than he is right now, but still would likely out-perform his salary obligations provided he stay healthy. After 2017, he’d be an free agent and could potentially command $12 million per season as a left-handed innings-eater.
At $12 million per season, and we’re just estimating (while taking inflation into consideration) here, is Wade Miley a value? The answer is probably not. He currently appears to be a two to three-win pitcher who may have an outlier season once in a while. It’s not like the team couldn’t conceivably develop their own “next Wade Miley” for the league minimum rather than paying for the 2018 version, one where he would turn 31 and be headed for his decline phase. They have plenty of arms in the system, and several with a Miley-esque upside. If there’s one thing the D-backs have been able to cultivate, it’s functional pitching (although they’ve seeming struggled to cultivate the impact kind).
Using Wade Miley’s Oliver Projections and counting the value of wins on the free agent market (while applying 5% annual inflation, let’s see how much surplus value Miley will produce each season over the next five years.
Given Miley’s age (he’s currently 27), there’s little hope for growth. In fact, this should really be the peak of his performance. He may maintain it for a couple of years, but by the time he’s 31 (2018), he should be strongly in his decline phase. Based on the salaries we projected above, which again are fairly rudimentary, he will no longer be producing much surplus value in a few seasons.
Based on his surplus value, Wade Miley will never be a better bargain than he is right now. As time goes on, his performance, value and surplus value should all trend in a negative direction. This is why teams are interested in him, because he’s a hell of a deal at the moment. Arizona, however, should recognize that the hell of a deal that he represents won’t last much longer. His current surplus value is a huge asset and, suffice it to say, he’ll never command a larger return than he would right now.
And this is where we can get a glimpse of how the Diamondbacks organization views their place on the win curve. Recent comments suggest that the leadership thinks that injuries have derailed their season and that this team, with a move or two, can contend in 2015. I would like to put myself on the record as saying that’s a huge miscalculation. This roster, even with the return of Corbin and full seasons of Pollock and Trumbo, still won’t be anything more than an 81-win team, and that’s being generous.
Wade Miley is the indicator of how the Diamondbacks see themselves. He’ll never be more valuable to another organization than he is at this point in time, and if they deal him, they’ll get the best haul possible. This would signal that they acknowledge that this team is two to four years away from being good again, which is truly the case. The only reason to keep him is to try to be competitive next season, but in all honestly, that’s already a lost cause unless they plan on trading all of their marquee prospects for big leaguers and spending a bunch of money this winter. In this way, Wade Miley has become a microcosm of Arizona’s larger plan.
Of course, the Diamondbacks have had trouble evaluating and properly valuing their own assets for quite some time now (see: Trevor Bauer, Justin Upton, Tyler Skaggs, others). And this is why I don’t see them ultimately dealing Miley. They may use the Bronson Arroyo injury as an excuse, but what’s another couple losses on the season at this point? Ultimately, it means a higher draft pick, more draft pool dollars and a larger international allotment. Saving Wade Miley, their most valuable commodity on the market besides Goldy and Archie Bradley, makes no sense when they’re multiple years from contention. To keep him in an attempt to contend next year shows that Arizona doesn’t know how far away from being a strong team they really are.
A great deal for Wade Miley may never materialize and maybe a deal never gets done. But if something useful comes along, it would be a mistake for the Diamondbacks to keep him. They should already be actively shopping him. If they aren’t, well, they’re not being honest with themselves about what this team really is.
I’ve made my case, now feel free to make yours in the comments section below and be sure to vote in the poll!
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