Brad Miller played a much bigger role in the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense than he was supposed to in 2020. The team should bring him back in 2021.
At the trade deadline in 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals were not busy. In fact, the only move of any impact that they made was for a player that didn’t spend an inning in a Cardinals uniform. This was the Jedd Gyorko trade that sent the utility infielder to Los Angeles for Tony Cingrani in return.
While many fans remember the Cingrani era in St. Louis well, the trade was no more than a salary dump for the Cardinals who were paying Gyorko $8M to do the same job that Yairo Munoz was doing for league-minimum. He had been losing playing time, and so the Cards sent him out.
Fans rightly loved Gyorko for his time here, as he had some big moments in his three and a half year career here. While Gyorko had one season with 30 homers, he was a “super-utility” guy who could play all over the diamond, averaging about 125 games a year.
The thing with Gyorko and his type of utility man is that in short spurts, they can get hot and carry an offense. We saw that at times with Gyorko, but what often happens is when they are forced to fill in and start every day for long stretches, they always crash back to Earth. That is why they are utility men, not starters. However, they still fill a very important role with any club.
In the winter before the 2020 season, the Cardinals (rather than just sit with just Munoz), jumped on free-agent utility man Brad Miller to fill Gyorko’s role. The 30-year-old Miller had become a bit of a journeyman after starting his career with the Mariners, but he was coming off of a year where he had an .894 OPS in 79 games as a backup with Philadelphia and Cleveland.
For just $2M in 2020, Brad Miller would’ve been a steal over 162 games. However, for just $741k in 60 games, Miller was the bargain of the year for John Mozeliak. By all accounts, Miller outperformed what was expected of him.
Assisted by the addition of the DH in the National League, Miller played in 48 out of the Cardinals’ 58 total games. On the year, Miller had a .232/.357/.451 slash line, tying Tyler O’Neill with the team lead with seven homers. His 121 wRC+ was second on the team behind Paul Goldschmidt, way outperforming what was expected of the quiet signing.
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The global view doesn’t show the arc of Miller’s season though. Very quickly, Miller proved he was one of the hotter hitters in the lineup. Batting cleanup a surprisingly high 29 times in 2020, Miller carried the offense at times.
Now, Miller batting cleanup tells you more about the rest of the offense rather than it does Miller, but he carried the offense at times. In August, Miller finished the month with a .281/.432/.491 slash. Miller hit the majority of his homers (five) in September, but August was his hottest month all around.
Sadly for Miller, the inevitable crash back to Earth happened after the first week of September. On September 7, Miller had a .291 batting average and a .988 OPS. By all accounts, he wasn’t getting lucky either. From then until the end of the season, he batted just .149 with a .543 OPS.
To be fair, this could’ve been because of workload and just general fatigue from the ridiculously tough schedule the Cardinals played, but regardless, Miller went cold as we have seen Gyorko do before.
Just because Miller went cold doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be back in 2021.
By FanGraphs’ value estimator, Miller was worth a whopping $6.3M in 48 games in 2020. Moving forward to 2021, that would honestly be my starting offer to him on another one-year deal. Max Schrock showed some promise, but he doesn’t have the potential or power that Miller has.
Miller has certainly earned a raise, but if he can be truly used in the utility role that he was first signed for, he has a chance to be one of the better utility men in baseball for the Cardinals.
Brad Miller was great stepping up into a role that he shouldn’t have had to be in this year. Going into 2021, keeping Miller around should be an easy choice.