When New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called Cleveland Indians team president Chris Antonetti on a Saturday night in late July to accept a package featuring two of Cleveland’s top prospects for lefty reliever Andrew Miller, Antonetti was in his suite at Progressive Field with his top lieutenants, GM Mike Chernoff and assistant GM Derek Falvey.
There was no champagne, no celebration and no way of truly knowing they were agreeing to a legendary deal that could bring Cleveland its first World Series title since 1948.
No, the more than 100 conversations and texts with Cashman was an agonizing process that left Antonetti with hope but no certainty.
“There is excitement about coming to terms for a guy that we targeted,” Antonetti said. “At the same time, there was a pit in your stomach because we knew we were trading really good players. That is a hard thing for us to do. There is that dichotomy.”
Both Antonetti and Cashman went through with ESPN.com the finer points of a deal that changed the course of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. Regardless of whether the Indians win the World Series, it will go down as one of the great deadline trades in baseball history.
For his part, Cashman has no regrets, as he feels confident the players the team acquired -- beginning with the two marquee acquisitions, outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield -- will be a part of future solutions for his rebuilding franchise.
“I felt like it was something we had to do,” Cashman said.
Neither side thinks this is a "Brock for Broglio" deal, which was the infamous Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio trade between the Cardinals and Cubs in June 1964. The pit in Antonetti’s stomach was due in large part to the potential of Frazier and Sheffield.
Starting in late June, Cashman and Antonetti went back and forth -- an “excruciating” negotiation, as the Indians president described it -- before the deal was consummated a month later. During that time, Cashman and his scouts zeroed in on what they wanted, while Antonetti upped his ante.
“We felt a unique circumstance with Andrew; with all the elements he brought to the table, it was worth paying a very steep price,” Antonetti said.
'We needed two twin firstborns'
Cashman began talking deals with other clubs before he knew if he would actually be allowed to trade Miller. The Yankees don’t do rebuilds. Even though by June it was obvious to most following the team closely it was a middling club, owner Hal Steinbrenner writes the checks and those added up to more than $220 million in salary. In this context, Steinbrenner understandably wanted to give his players every opportunity to prove they were contenders. Meanwhile, Cashman was left to do the legwork without knowing if there was an endgame.
Cashman did not approach it with any false pretense. Cashman is popular among other GMs, in part because of his straightforwardness. He told clubs he wasn’t sure that he would trade Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran or Miller, but particularly Miller. Not only was Miller perhaps the game’s best reliever, but he was unselfish, willing to relinquish the closer job to lesser relievers, and comparatively, his contract was reasonable, as he was just in the second season of a four-year, $36 million deal.
“Cash was very up-front and said, ‘Miller is a little bit of a different animal,’” Antonetti said. “We obviously have control over him so, even if our competitiveness faltered, it is going to be a really high bar for us to clear to be motivated to do something.’ Then the burden was on us to meet them.”
Though Cashman didn’t know if he would deal Chapman or Miller, he knew Chapman would be easier to relinquish, because he was due to be a free agent at season's end. With an open mind, Cashman began trade talks with suitors, which included the Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs, Giants, Rangers and Indians. The Red Sox and Mets -- two teams which don’t traditionally make many deals with the Yankees -- showed no interest.
The GMs involved all wanted to make the most significant impact they could on 2016 without harming their organizations’ futures too much. Their jobs -- and their ability to hang onto them -- are based on weighing these factors.
Antonetti and the Indians were already plotting how they would use Miller. The 6-foot-7 Miller, the sixth pick in the 2006 draft, had been a failed starter until 2012, when then-Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine moved him into the bullpen, which changed the trajectory of Miller’s career.
Miller had pitched in nearly every role in his career, and the Indians were confident the 31-year-old would be willing to take on any task to win. He had done it for Chapman; his ego was tuned to winning, not accumulating saves.
As the trade talks and texts between Cashman and Antonetti began, the Indians’ front office, manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway started devising plans on how they would use Miller.
“We wanted a guy that was going to be impactful in the most leveraged situations,” Callaway said.
The Indians were in on Chapman and all the other available prime relievers, but they had targeted Miller as the top name on their wish list with a plan to use him to face the most potent hitters on other teams, no matter the inning. Meanwhile, their own closer, Cody Allen, went out of his way to tell Antonetti he would be willing to fill any role if the Indians acquired a better closer option.
While Cashman was still unsure if he would be granted permission to deal Miller, he knew it would take a haul to make him even bring an opportunity to ownership.
“We wanted a firstborn for Chapman,” Cashman said. “We needed two twin firstborns for Miller.”
The Tampa Bay Rays made it happen
A baseball season is a nine-month slog that finds its champion with so many little factors that can change the course of history. This season, one of those was a seemingly irrelevant, three-game series between the Yankees and the Rays that occurred the final weekend of July.
Prior to this series, Steinbrenner had already made one concession: He allowed Cashman to deal Chapman to the Chicago Cubs earlier in the week. While that did break up the trio of Chapman, Miller and Dellin Betances, the Yankees still had one of the strongest back-end bullpens in the game.
While the Yankees were diminishing their chances for 2016, their argument that they weren’t waving the white flag had some merit considering who was left behind in the bullpen. But Steinbrenner was even apprehensive about dealing free-agent-to-be Chapman for shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres and three other minor leaguers. It took the Yankees owner 48 hours to approve it.
In Tampa, Steinbrenner continued to wrestle with what direction to take his franchise. He was at Tropicana Field as the Yankees were in the process of being swept by the Rays, causing Cashman to further his case to ownership to trade veterans. The Yankees had dropped back to .500 after 104 games.
“A true playoff contender, you know, not a playoff pretender, wouldn't do that,” Cashman would say of the sweep.
More important, Steinbrenner agreed with Cashman’s assessment.
While the Cubs were off the board, the rest of the contenders were still searching for relievers. The Pirates’ Mark Melancon was out there and would eventually be dealt to the Nationals, but Miller, because of his ability, his attitude and his contract, had increased value. It was a golden ticket for the Yankees to cash in, if they were serious about becoming younger, more athletic and less expensive.
Cashman’s scouts and his top advisors had homed in on two prospects in the Indians’ system -- Frazier and Sheffield. Frazier, a 22-year-old outfielder, had as much confidence as he had talent. Cashman would call his bat speed “legendary.” Sheffield, meanwhile, was a 20-year-old with a “high-electric left arm,” Cashman said.
“Those two were the two primary pieces that had to be in it,” Cashman said.
Cashman had dual negotiations to complete the trade. One was continuing with the Indians to add pitchers Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen to the trade, while the other was convincing Steinbrenner to go through with it. It took three days and a witnessing the Rays’ sweep, but Steinbrenner saw the logic that while Miller would likely not lead the Yankees to a 2016 championship, leveraging his trade value might lead to a future title.
The deal, in essence, was completed July 30, after the Yankees lost the second of three games against the Rays. When the trade was agreed upon, Cashman also had the same feeling as Antonetti.
“Once the medicals cleared for both sides, then it was a pit in my stomach that I have the most difficult job of all in calling Andrew Miller,” Cashman said. “Andrew, he didn’t want to go anywhere. He loved playing here. Andrew was everything you want. Unfortunately, we had a lot of areas that need to be addressed, so unfortunately he was part of that type of solution.”
Now, after being MVP of the American League Championship Series, he is the biggest reason the Indians might become world champions. He has thrown 11⅔ scoreless playoff innings, allowing just five hits and recording strikeouts for 21 of his 35 outs.
“We're going to the World Series,” Miller said during the Indians’ celebration in Toronto after winning Game 5. “It doesn't get any better than that.”
For Antonetti, Francona and the Indians, this trade couldn’t have turned out better.
“We envisioned using him like we are,” Francona said.
Cashman has visions of Frazier and Sheffield being part of a similar championship scene one day. Antonetti could see it too.
“We are confident that the guys we traded away will make a big impact with the Yankees,” Antonetti said.