Daniel Nava and the Red Sox avoided arbitration late Thursday night, agreeing on a $1.85 million contract in his first year of eligibility. That leaves just Wade Miley between the Red Sox and a streak of 13 straight years without seeing a case actually go all the way to arbitration--not since coming out on top against Rolando Arrojo back in 2002, saving a total of $900,000 against Arrojo's $2.8 million asking price.
When you see a figure like that in the context of a payroll that has only dipped below $100 million once since that case was decided (and then by all of $53,500), it becomes clear why Theo Epstein started the trend of avoiding arbitration year-in and year-out, and why Ben Cherington seems to have taken the lesson to heart. Saving half a percentage point on their payroll in any given case isn't much of a reward when the cost is initiating hostilities between the team and its young players.
Coincidentally, $900,000 is the exact difference between the Red Sox and Miley, with the Sox coming in at $3.4 million, Miley at $4.3 million.
While $900,000 was enough to bring the Red Sox to the table before Epstein, one imagines that Wade Miley is just about the last player they want to be at odds with headed into 2015. If Rick Porcello is the anchor at the top of the rotation, Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson the lottery tickets, and Joe Kelly the solid back-end arm, Miley is the intellectual gamble that has to pay off. The Red Sox have looked at his 2014 struggles, decided there was no reason to put much stock in them, and brought him into a situation where his ground balls should help keep runs off the board.
Not part of that plan? Going to an arbitrator and putting all of Wade Miley's 2014 struggles on full display to save what amounts to a pittance for a baseball team like the Red Sox. Sometimes a player is best-served by being reminded of their failures. Xander Bogaerts' 2014 struggles, for instance, probably came with its fair share of lessons for the 22-year-old shortstop. But if the Red Sox could convince Miley that he'd pitched to a 3.00 ERA in 2014, they probably would. They'd probably like to see the walks go back down a little, but Miley posted a career-high 8.18 K/9 and, every bit as important for the Red Sox and their 2015 plan, kept more than half the batted balls against him on the ground.
The Red Sox want Wade Miley to come to Boston and pitch just about the same way he did in Arizona, with the expectation that a .317 BABIP will not repeat itself, particularly in front of Boston's infield. And if making the case to an arbitrator detailing exactly why Miley's 2014 struggles make him only worthy of a $3.4 million salary isn't exactly likely to make Miley change the way he approaches the 2015 season at the last moment, there's no reason to risk sowing any seeds of doubt over what amounts to chump change for the Red Sox.
So we'll sit and wait for the Red Sox to get around to Miley, but the contract will come. The Red Sox have a 12-year streak on the line, and Wade Miley is not the player to break it for.