Millwood Made Most of Single Year in Cleveland
Vince Guerrieri | On 29, Oct 2013
Prior to the 2005 season, the Cleveland Indians signed pitcher Kevin Millwood.
At that point, fans who remembered the lack of a top-flight starter for the Tribe and how that hampered their ability to win it all in the 1990s said to themselves, “Too bad it wasn’t five years ago.”
Millwood broke in with the Braves in 1997, going 5-3 in 12 appearances. But in the next two years, he won 35 games. In 1999, he went 18-7, was named to the All-Star team and got votes for the Cy Young Award and the MVP award.
But three years later, he was gone, dealt to the Phillies in a salary dump for catcher Johnny Estrada. Millwood had some bright spots in his two years in the City of Brotherly Love, including a no-hitter against the Giants on April 27, 2003, the last year for the Phils at Veterans Stadium. Millwood led the league in shutouts that year with three, and went 14-12. But the next year, he went 9-6, and missed the better part of the last two months of the season with tendinitis, and became a free agent after the season.
The Indians signed Millwood to a one-year, $7 million deal. It was a relatively low-risk acquisition for the Tribe, looking for starting pitching. Millwood led the league with a 2.86 ERA, but went 9-11 – more a testament to his miserable run support. The Tribe scored less than four runs a game in Millwood’s starts, but he had proven that he was once again a capable pitcher, and left the Indians for greener pastures – specifically Arlington. The Rangers signed Millwood to a five-year, $60 million contract.
Millwood lasted for four years with the Rangers. He went 16-12 the first year there, and then 19-24 in the next two. The Rangers dealt him to Baltimore with cash for Chris Ray and a player to be named later, who turned out to be Ben Snyder, a Bellevue native and the brother of Tribe draft pick Brad Snyder.
He spent a year in Baltimore, going 4-16 and leading the league in losses, and played in Colorado in 2011 and was reunited with former Indians manager Eric Wedge in Seattle in 2012 before retiring with a career record of 169-152, and never quite living up to those early seasons he had in Atlanta.
The lack of run support Millwood got in 2005 made a difference down the stretch, as the Indians, who had played .700 ball after the All-Star break, lost six of their last seven games to end up watching the playoffs from home. The next year, an Indians team that was expected to contend won six of their first seven games, but went on a six-game losing streak to begin May and fell out of contention early on, finishing 78-84.
After the 2012 season, the Indians signed Scott Kazmir to a minor-league deal, and invited him to spring training. Kazmir was unhittable while a pitcher with the Rays from 2004-2009, but lost lots of time due to injury, something that continued when he was traded to the Angels, who ended up releasing him in 2011. He spent the next season and a half playing for various professional teams trying to get back to the majors.
Kazmir became the fifth starter for the Indians almost by default, but held up his end of the rotation, going 10-9 in 29 starts as the Indians won 92 games and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Last week, the Giants signed Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal.
The market’s been set for pitchers. Lincecum’s been a shadow of his Cy Young Award-winning self, being converted to bullpen use for the Giants’ 2012 World Championship. Kazmir, like Millwood, proved himself in one year in Cleveland, and like Millwood, could find more money on the free agent market, demonstrating the reward and the risks of a one-year reclamation project.