Brad Mills Comes to Oakland (And Related Transactions)

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 17, 2014 at 8:17 PM

The A's today traded $1 to Milwaukee for lefty pitcher Brad Mills. Not former Astros manager and current Cleveland coach Brad Mills. The younger one. This one was picked in the fourth round in 2007 by the Blue Jays, 15 picks after Derek Norris and three picks before Trevor Pippin. He scalded the minor leagues in 2008, pitching at three levels (finishing at Double-A) with a 1.95 cumulative ERA and nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings.

He stalled at Triple-A, though: He's pitched parts of six seasons there with a 4.19 ERA and 2 1/2 strikeouts per walk. Those are decent enough numbers, particularly given that out of 635 innings at the level, 354 of them were at Las Vegas and 109 at Salt Lake City, both tough places to call your home park as a pitcher (relative to their league, each park is inflating run-scoring by about 5 percent this year, according to Minor League Central, and that's in a league that in 2009 was scoring 4.9 runs per game). In Round Rock and Nashville, by contrast, Mills has a 2.87 ERA in 172 innings. He didn't strike anybody out last year, but he's got a punchout per frame so far this season.

He's 29, though, and his 53 innings in the majors come complete with a 5.50 FIP and a 56 ERA+, so you can see why it only cost $1 to pry him from Milwaukee's grasp, even though every team always needs more starting pitching.

Here's the spot where I wanted to tell you what we said about Mills in the Baseball Prospectus annual this year, but, uh, we didn't put him in the book. It was a justifiable decision! I swear it was. Except that now we're going to look awesome when he rips off 10 good starts with the A's and Wally Pipps poor Drew Pomeranz.

Because that's what led to this whole thing (though the news broke backwards), which is that Pomeranz is going to the disabled list with a broken right hand. He punched a chair in the clubhouse because he was mad about pitching shitty so now he won't get to pitch at all for a while, though it's unclear how long. Again, it's his off hand, so he won't necessarily need it to be fully healed in the sense of all the motor skills coming back and so forth, but he will need to be able to do things like squeeze the glove and not scream in pain if he catches a ground ball. He can also throw to keep his arm ready while he's rehabbing, so he won't need to shake off too much rust when he does make it back.

Anyway, back to Mills. He is a finesse lefty, not a blow-away pitcher. He's thrown just over 1,100 pitches captured by PITCHf/x (or by public PITCHf/x, anyway -- teams are rolling the system out in minor-league parks, but we don't have that data), and his fastball clocked in at 86 mph on average. His main secondary pitch is a changeup, which bodes well for him as a starter who needs a weapon against right-handed batters. There's been about an 11 mph gap between the fastball and the change in the past. His breaking pitch is a curve.

Another part of this is that Mills is not on the 40-man, so the A's will need to make a move to get him there. The most obvious one is putting Raul Alcantara on the 60-day disabled list. He's out until at least the middle of next year after Tommy John surgery in May, so there's no real reason to lose a player, or at least risk losing a player, if the team doesn't have to. But if they want to lose a player, I guess there's always Jeff Francis.

Another another part of this (my transitions game is crazy good right now, unstoppable) is why did the A's acquire Brad Mills at all? I guess for $1, the deal is unbeatable. My grandpa would go down to the Naval Exchange or to Costco and if he saw something on deep discount, he'd buy it. He had no idea what he was going to do with the damn thing half the time, but he couldn't resist a steal. I'm not sure he ever bought a Christmas present consciously in his life, in fact -- come the end of the year, he'd look at the stuff he'd gathered throughout the year and start giving it away. Which, come to think of it, isn't such a bad strategy! I don't know why I'm playing this like it's some goofy wackadoodle approach to shopping and life when it seems pretty clear that he had it all figured out. Not so unlike Billy Beane!

So that's one possible explanation, that Mills is just here because he's here and he won't be joining the 40-man any time soon so much as sitting around and waiting for an opportunity if it arises. Except if that's the case, why would the Brewers trade Mills to the A's at all? Doug Melvin is effectively doing two favors, one for Beane, a general manager in the other league who finds himself short a starting pitcher, and one for Mills, a Triple-A lifer who hoped for a shot with the Brewers but who is staring up at a pretty solid rotation ahead of him and who'd be better off in another organization. In that case, Mills doesn't wind up on the A's unless he's going to wind up on the A's. Oh, and there's also

I'm fairly sure Rosenthal tweeted that before word came out about Pomeranz's hand, so at the time we were all a little mystified, but it later made total sense.

Except that there is this guy Dan Straily. Remember him? Pop-up prospect, sub-4 ERA in 2013 with solid periperhals, gave up homers at a whiplash-inducing rate over his first seven starts this year, got demoted to go work on it? In seven post-demotion starts, he's striking out a batter per inning, walking 3.5 per nine (a rate much higher than his previous high-minors work), and still giving up homers, actually -- four in 45 innings isn't an astounding number, but it's double his 2012-13 rate. Still, this works out to a 3.55 ERA in the PCL. Stats aren't everything in the minors. They may not even be most of the thing. They may may be even less of a thing when someone has struggled with a particular aspect of their game and is sent down to work on it. Which is all to say: if the A's think Straily isn't ready to come up, well, who am I to dissent?

Oh, and Evan Scribner is in Oakland for the next few days, until the A's need his spot for Pomeranz's replacement in the rotation. Welcome back, Scrumbles.

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