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Potential free agent target: Brad Miller

The Royals love versatility.

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates - Game One Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Dayton Moore still has one more piece he would like to add, a left-handed bat that can play either the outfield or third base. Why not get someone that can play both? Brad Miller fits the bill as a versatile utility player capable of playing all over the field.

Miller went to high school in the Orlando area and attended Clemson University, where he was named a first-team All-American. The Seattle Mariners selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft, and he hit .334 with 15 home runs in his first full pro season in 2012. In 2013, he spent the first month in Double-A before earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit .356 in 26 games. He participated in the Futures Game, and by the end of June he was in the big leagues, hitting .265/.318/.418 in 76 games.

Miller was the starting shortstop for the Mariners in 2014, but was a disappointment, hitting just .221.288/.365 in 123 games. He lost his starting job in 2015 to Chris Taylor and became a super utility player, filling the role admirably with a 105 OPS+ in 144 games, making starts at six different positions. Jerry DiPoto took over as Mariners general manager that fall, and the very first of his many trades was to send Miller and Logan Morrison to the Rays in a six-player trade that netted pitcher Nate Karns.

After a slow start with the Rays, Miller responded with his best offensive numbers, hitting .243/.304/.482 with 30 home runs in 152 games. He continued to show his versatility by serving as the primary starting first baseman for the Rays down the stretch. He moved to second base in 2017, but missed a month with an abdomen injury, and posted the numbers of his career.

The Rays traded him to Milwaukee the next June for first baseman Ji-Man Choi, but Miller continued to flounder, likely due to lingering injuries that eventually required microfracture surgery and right hip labrum surgery that off-season. After a short stint with the Indians in 2019, Miller signed on with the Phillies and impressed with 12 home runs in just 66 games. He joined the Cardinals last year and .232/.357/.451 with seven home runs in 48 games.

Miller isn’t a big name, and it may seem like he’s not very good because he keeps bouncing around so much. But over the last three years, he has 595 plate appearances and has hit .247/.329/.468 with 27 home runs and 62 walks, good for a 112 OPS+ and 2.1 WAR according to Fangraphs. His ISO over that time is better than Paul Goldschmidt, Corey Seager, Austin Riley, and Michael Conforto.

The 31-year old will strike out quite a bit, but has a career 9.7 percent walk rate (that spiked to 14.6 percent last year). Ben Clemens at Fangraphs hypothesizes that Miller has evolved as a hitter to take a more “feast or famine” approach.

Why is Miller’s whiff rate so high on pitches down the middle? Because he’s trying to blast them into outer space. Strikes that aren’t third strikes aren’t the end of the world, and barrels are worth their weight in wOBA. Even with his sketchy contact abilities, the tradeoff makes sense.

He has a pretty big career split and faced lefties just 20 times last year, so he’s best suited as a platoon player who only faces righties.

Miller is an offense-first utility player, the anti-Chris Owings. Defensively, he’s not great, but he won’t kill you either. He is capable of playing shortstop in a pinch, although you probably don’t want him there much. He would be more comfortable at third base and the outfield, although he could fill in all over the field if needed.

Craig Edwards at Fangraphs projects Miller to get a one-year, $5 million deal, ranking him as the #49 free agent available this off-season.

Miller is yet another in a growing line of veterans whose careers have been extended by some combination of a) the shift enabling infielders with limited mobility to remain viable for longer and b) teams having more versatile players who make bat-only types like Miller rosterable.

That’s probably in Kansas City’s comfort zone in terms of what they want to pay a short-term player who can provide some depth. The Royals love positional versatility, and for good reason. Miller’s ability to play all over the field prevents him from blocking younger players they want to take a look at. The Royals also wouldn’t have to worry about being so thin they have to sign an Abraham Almonte or bring up a Jeison Guzman before they’re ready as they’ve done the last few seasons. Miller may not be a sexy choice, but he may fit in with what the Royals are looking for better than a lot of options left.