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Indians sign infielder Brad Miller to major league deal

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The Indians almost started the season with Eric Stamets and Max Moroff as their middle infielders. Crisis mostly averted

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians have signed veteran infielder Brad Miller to a major league deal, according to MLB.com’s Mandy Bell. As a corresponding move, the Indians also placed Danny Salazar on the 60-day injured list.

Miller is two injury plagued seasons away from hitting 30 home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays when he was worth a career-high 2.3 fWAR over 152 games. Since that breakout season, though, Miller has combined to play in just 185 games over two seasons with 16 home runs and an even 0.0 fWAR.

With Jason Kipnis starting the season sidelined with a lingering calf issue — and let’s be honest, probably missing a little more time based on the Tribe’s history with calves — Miller provides the Indians with at least the hope of some pop in April. He won’t add much on defense, but the ability to hit the ball is occasionally important in baseball.

It’s likely that likely Eric Stamets or Max Moroff will start at shortstop for the Indians, while Yu Chang takes his 20-home run power to Triple-A for some reason.

For what it’s worth, Miller is still hitting the ball as hard as he ever has. In 2018, his average exit velocity was 90.8 according to Statcast — 0.5 miles per hour higher than in 2016. He also barreled the ball (hit it at an ideal speed and launch angle) 10.7 percent of the time, compared to 9.7 in 2016.

If there is a singular thing to point to for Miller’s struggles the last two seasons, it’s making contact. Miller’s overall contact rate was high as 82.8 in his rookie campaign, and eventually seemed to level out in the mid-70s. But following his 75.5 percent contact rate in 2016, it plummeted to 71.2 percent in 2017 and 68.1 percent last season. His contact rate outside of the zone peaked at 67.8 percent in 2017 and dropped to 52.6 percent last season. For reference, that’s just 0.3 percent higher than the Orioles’ Chris Davis and 0.4 percent higher than Giancarlo Stanton.

Miller was previously inked to a minor-league deal with the Dodgers this spring, but opted out when it was clear he wouldn’t make the Opening Day roster in Los Angeles.

Most importantly, this is the third Brad on the Tribe roster heading into the season along with Brad Hand and Bradley Zimmer. This is important for some reason, I’m sure of it.