Whenever Major League Baseball’s lockout concludes, Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will be left to determine how the team will proceed in both center and left field.
A secondary storyline, though, will be whether fan-favorite Brad Miller returns to the team in 2022.
After spending the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with the St. Louis Cardinals, Miller returned for a second stint with the Phillies on a one-year/$3.5 million deal.
Miller is boom or bust player — heck, he admitted in a meeting with the media during the 2021 season that he tries to hit a home run in every at-bat — but he booms enough to be a valuable player.
In his age-31 season, Miller slashed .227/.321/.453 with 20 home runs, 49 RBIs, 45 walks and a .774 OPS. And the veteran slugger’s bat provided some of the best moments of the Phillies season.
On July 8, Joe Girardi gambled by starting Miller at first base over Rhys Hoskins against Chicago Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay. Miller responded by becoming the first Phillie to hit three home runs in a game since Jayson Werth did so in May of 2008:
On July 29, Miller helped the Phillies complete a 7-0 comeback in the second game of a double-header against the division-rival Washington Nationals, hitting a walk-off grand slam:
Miller — who we dubbed “Mr. September” — finished the season strong, homering five times in the final full month of the season. This comes after he homered eight times and drove in 11 runs for the Phillies in September of 2019.
There’s no reason to think the Phillies wouldn’t want to retain Miller, it’s just a question of whether they’ll present the most attractive landing spot for the veteran.
If the DH becomes universal, it would obviously be beneficial for Miller’s market. All 30 teams aren’t going to have a full-time DH, but someone still does need to get the bulk of the at-bats at the position.
Miller got 331 at-bats with the Phillies in 2021, but that wasn’t necessarily be design. He got 163 at-bats at first base, largely because Hoskins played his last game of the season on Aug. 25. But if a team planned to use Miller as their DH in 60% of games, he might end up getting more at-bats than he would have in a typical season as a National League team’s best pinch hitter.
Of course, if the DH becomes universal, there’s no reason that the Phillies couldn’t be the team to give the bulk of their at-bats at DH to Miller. Whether they would be willing to make that sort of pledge to Miller or not is unclear.
When the DH was universal during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Jay Bruce and Phil Gosselin each got their chance to get at-bats at the spot, but the Phillies also liked the chance to get Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and J.T. Realmuto, among others, off their feet while not losing their bats in the lineup.
Dave Dombrowski wasn’t the president of baseball operations at that time, but Joe Girardi was in his first season as Phillies manager. If the DH became universal starting in 2022, the Phillies would seemingly have a similar approach; someone will get the bulk of the at-bats at the spot, but there won’t be a specific player guaranteed the overwhelming majority of at-bats like David Ortiz or Edgar Martinez was during their career.
The question then becomes, can Miller get an offer with a more defined role elsewhere? If 29 other teams are now looking to fill the DH role on at least a part-time basis — as opposed to 15 when the DH was only in the American League — the answer to that question might be yes.
Another consideration is how much Miller will make. He earned $3.5 million in 2021. As mentioned above, the Phillies still need to find starters in left and center field, along with adding depth in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. When all that’s taken care of, will there still be enough money under the luxury tax threshold — which the Phillies have never exceeded — to bring Miller back?
If the league’s 30 owners get their way, and the next collective bargaining agreement includes $615,000 minimum salaries and a $214 million luxury tax threshold in 2022, Phillies Nation‘s Destiny Lugardo estimates that the Phillies would have $32 million to work with after the lockout concludes. That money could go quickly with all the remaining holes on the roster.
One thing is for sure, a team that’s struggled to score runs in the final month of the season would be worse off in trying to snap a 10-year playoff drought without the presence of Miller.
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