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.

Picture 11

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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14 Responses to Wade Miley is the Canary in the Coal Mine

  1. Puneet says:

    Given the team’s track record of dumb pitching acquisitions, I’d almost they rather hang onto Wade just to prevent them from doling out a ton of money to another average pitcher. Unless our management gets drastically better at decision making, I’d rather have Miley occupying that spot than giving out another contract to a Brandon McCarthy or Bronson Arroyo (both of whom I respect and admire a lot).

    Also, I don’t have much faith in their ability to trade for the correct prospects from other teams, which makes me think the return will be quite low.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      True, prospect evaluation doesn’t seem to be one of the organization’s strengths. Context is important here, and in this context, the D-backs’ ability to acquire something truly valuable is up for debate.

  2. Paulnh says:

    I totally agree with everything this article says. We need to be actively shopping Wade Miley just to see what we can get for him. If the front office isn’t impressed with an offer before the July 31st trade deadline, then we can just hold onto him. I see a problem though. Wade Miley is a good number three or awesome number four on a contending team. Just because he is our “ace,” we can’t look at him and overvalue him. Yes he is cheap, but he is just a solid pitcher, he’s not a huge impact guy for a team trying to make a postseason push. I look around baseball and I just don’t see a contending team that is going to trade assets for Wade Miley. If I am wrong please tell me, but I looked at every contending team’s rotation and didn’t see one team that had a need for a young mid-rotation pitcher. If a team suddenly gets plagued by injuries and needs a young pitcher, then why not trade Wade Miley? I just can’t see the DBacks getting equal value for Wade prior to July 31st. If I was part of the front office, I would shop Wade Miley until the deadline knowing that he probably isn’t going to get traded and then really try to move him this offseason. If he pitches well for the rest of this year, we could still get value back for him during the offseason.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      That’s how I’d play it. Aggressively shop him and if nothing comes of it, I can live with that. But to keep him under the premise that they can be good next season is just plain wrong.

  3. Bradford says:

    I like the thinking of this article, but have to disagree with the projections that say Miley will be in a heavy decline by 31. I think that’s the one thing that annoys me the most about sabermetrics, that as soon as a guy turns 30 he’s quickly useless or an injury liability. But anyway, onto my critique. Stuff-wise, Miley is good but not great, with a fastball that can touch 93 but sits more at 91. He has good breaking stuff too. Usually his bad starts can be attributed to leaving the ball up and over the middle. This is something that generally gets better with age: pitch location, along with the ability to command the breaking ball in fastball counts. Miley may see his fastball decline slightly, but I don’t see that being an end-all like it has been to Tim Lincecum lately.His stuff is just bland enough to not see a steep drop-off, and the qualities he already relies on to get batters out should only improve with experience. Barring injury, and he doesn’t have any mechanics that would suggest he’s bound for the DL, I think Miley could provide virtually the same value he does now in his mid-thirties. Not only does retaining Miley give us a known quantity as we bring up and develop Bradley and Toussaint, but it builds an ambassador to the fanbase in Miley, which Arizona desperately needs to turn into a legitimate baseball town. I’m not saying he’s our Andy Pettitte, but he should be allowed to stay as long as he’s useful and as long as he’s willing to play at a reasonable hometown salary.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I’d view it differently. Yes, his stuff is currently bland, but he’s just “getting by” with bland stuff. What happens when it does dip? Can he survive? I’m not so sure.

  4. B. says:

    I like the idea of trading Miley, but I agree, the Diamondbacks got rid of the sabermetrics types and picked up gritty GM, Manager and staff. That grit has failed them in evaluating true talent of their players and those of other teams. The ramblin’ gamblin’ man in charge has thrown away talent and spent/wasted resources on whims. Just as putting your money down at Vegas not knowing even the basics of Blackjack, Towers does so with our baseball team. That is why, even more than trading Miley, we need to be rid of Towers. I do not think we’ll get a good trade with him on board.
    Starting rotations are were any good team starts and Arizona’s is now a mess. 81 wins next year is wishful thinking with a starting rotation of: Corbin (assuming he’s healthy and pitching like he did pre-surgery, not a given), Miley and ??? Three questions marks is trouble. Corbin could be a star, but it falls way back to a little about average with Miley and most likely downhill from there. Here’s hoping Branson is a great pitching teaching and helps the new Baby-Backs staff with their off-speed stuff.

  5. Cordova says:

    As long as KT is the one making the trades I say keep Miley.

  6. FQ says:

    Wade Miley will have 8 figures in surplus value through 2015 and nearly that much in 2016 so trading him now is not something I think the Diamondbacks should do. However, moving Aaron Hill and Cody Ross will be nearly impossible unless we eat a large portion of their salaries which will make nearly unaffordable a quick rebuild… something we assume is the preferred plan of ownership and an aging Tony LaRusso. Cody Ross gets $9.5 million this year and next with a $1 million buyout of his 2016 $9.5 million team option… jeez, bad contract. Aaron Hill’s is not as bad since he retains a fair share of his value at 2B but he’s owed the remainder of his $11 million 2014 salary and is due $12 million in both 2015 and 2016, his age 34 season. I would be happy to deal Miley if the team who got him would take on one (or both!) of the two albatrosses, Ross and/or Hill, and their salaries and kick back a truly valuable prospect in return. Am I asking for too much, probably but doesn’t Toronto need a solid 2B (the very definition of good but not great Hill) and innings-eating pitching depth? Ross? We will likely be stuck with him. Maybe if he finishes the season strong he can restore some value for an off season move.

    • pike says:

      the marlins and the jays would both who the dbacks should be talking to. Both are looking for SP and 2B depth, though the Marlins may be less willing to pickup Hill.

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