Miller keeping his eye on the prize with Red Sox

Miller keeping his eye on the prize with Red Sox
March 20, 2011, 8:58 pm
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By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Andrew Miller got to the big leagues two months after being selected sixth overall in the 2006 draft. It didn't take.

The next time Miller gets to the major leagues -- and he's realistic enough to know that's unlikely to take place next month, when the Red Sox choose their 25-man roster -- he'd like to be more permanent.

Once on baseball's fast track, Miller is willing to slow down his development path in exchange for long-term stability.

And he's willing to wait.

Even before this spring, Miller took a circuitious route to get to the Red Sox. After being traded from Florida in exchange for Dustin Richardson last November, he was non-tendered a month later before re-signing with the Red Sox in December.

He had offers from Washington, Pittsburgh, Texas and others, and chose the Red Sox, although they were offering a minor-league deal and guaranteeing nothing.

"I didn't come here to make the Opening Day roster,'' said Miller, "though obviously, you won't hear me complain if that were to happen. Somewhere else I probably would have been either assured of competition or assured of a job right now. But long term, I came here to get better, to accomplish what I think I can and be part of the Red Sox organization.''

Aleady with his third organization -- drafted by Detroit, then traded to Florida -- Miller's inconsistency was on display Sunday when he came on in relief of Daisuke Matsuzaka with two out and one on in the sixth. He promptly allowed the next six St. Louis Cardinals hitters he faced to reach base without recording the elusive third out.

"That was kind of a reminder, coming in out of the bulllpen, how important it is to attack the strike zone,'' said Terry Francona.

That inning was evidence that Miller remains a work in progress. Prior to that outing, however, Miller had looked sharp, scored against in just one of his six outings.

And the Sox aren't about to make any judgment based on a single Grapefruit League outing. They've signaled that they're in this for the long haul. In fact, they proposed an unusual stipulation in his contract to provide other teams with a disincentive in the hopes that it would enable him to remain with the Red Sox even if he had to be exposed to waivers.

The deal called for Miller, who is out of options, to make 1.2 million in the majors, with an option for 2012 that would jump to 3 million if he got claimed by another team.

(Industry sources said Sunday that the contract may not be approved because of the unusual clause, and that both the commissioner's office and the Major League Baseball Players Association were investigating further).

"We knew what they wanted to do,'' said Miller about agreeing to the unique structure of the deal, "and I knew if I wanted to come here, that was the best situation for me. I wanted to make sure I was going to be here and that it was part of the plan. It wasn't like, 'I'm going to Boston'' and then you don't make the team and now you're in the places where you didn't want to be.

''The idea was to be part of this organization long-term, not short-term. It made sense to me. It accomplished what I wanted and what the team wanted. I think that's what you look for in a contract, where both sides are happy. It was a creative way to try make sure that this lasts longer.''

Like other teams, the Red Sox were intigued by Miller's potential. Lefties who are 6-foot-7 and can throw in the mid-90s with a slider which, at times, can be unhittable are not common. So the Sox pounced.

The problem, though, is that Miller's long, lanky frame makes it easier for him to fall out of his delivery and have difficulty commanding his stuff. If the Sox can fix his mechanics at Pawtucket, it will have been worth the time and money invested.

It helped Miller to know that his former University of North Carolina teammate Daniel Bard spoke glowingly about the organization.

"I certainly talked to Daniel about it,'' he said. "When they traded for me, I knew from the conversations we had, they were excited to have me as part of the organization. It seemed like a good fit.

"You won't hear anyone tell you it isn't a first-class organization. I had multiple conversations with people and it just seemed like such a good place and such a good place for me to come. I haven't done what I wanted to do but if I'm going to figure it out, what better place than here?''

But first "here" is likely to be Pawtucket, where it's unclear whether he'll be deployed as a starter -- where he can have the most impact long-term -- or in relief, where he might harness his command and contribute sooner.

Miller has already had his baseball baptism, which was a bit of "too much, too soon.'' This time, the next time, he wants it to be real.

"I'll never complain about being called up early to the big leagues,'' Miller emphasized. "The opportunities that Detroit gave me, I wouldn't trade that for the world.

"I cherish those opportunities. I pitched in a pennant race in 2006 and the next year, we were in the race and I came up.

"It's an experience that, hopefully when I get back to the leagues, it won't be like I'm 25 and just being called up for the first time. I got all the first-time stuff out of the way -- the nerves and that kind of stuff out of the way.''

He has the luxury -- in terms of age and finances -- to be patient.

"Fortunately for me,'' he said, "I made quite a bit of money from the draft a 3.55 million signing bonus, so it's not like I've been starving on a minor-league salary the last couple of years. For me, it's more about being the major league pitcher I think I can be and what I envision for myself.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam