"I think he can be helpful to us in the month of September pitching in our bullpen," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a conference call. "We felt in a pennant race that he could be a very valuable addition to our organization."
The more immediate plan for Miller is to report Monday to Lakeland and start working out with organizational instructors. Once he's deemed ready for pitching, scouting director David Chadd said, he'll start out at Class A Lakeland as a reliever and work from there.
The relief role, club officials cautioned, is not a sign of where his future lies. But given the time left in the season and the time off he has had since pitching for the Tar Heels in the College World Series, it made more sense to work him in shorter stints than try to stretch him out.
Considering the Tigers' recent draft history, however, this is a relatively quick negotiation. When Miller fell to the Tigers with the sixth overall pick, it was expected to be a difficult signing, especially after rumors surfaced of what type of money Miller could demand. Though Miller was widely regarded as the best pitcher available in the draft, fears of a long negotiation that could drag into next year helped push him out of the top five. He was expected to draw the most lucrative deal of the draft, but it wasn't supposed to happen anytime soon.
A long association between Dombrowski and agent Mark Rodgers helped quicken the pace. Just as important, the Tigers knew the expectations when they drafted Miller.
"We had the support from Day 1 from [owner Michael] Ilitch," Chadd said, "as well as Dave, [legal counsel] John [Westhoff] and [assistant GM] Al [Avila]. The Detroit Tigers are going to take the best player available, and that's what we did."
As the idea of Miller actually pitching in Detroit this year developed, it helped speed up the process, too. It's an idea Miller's representatives liked, and one the Tigers grew to like more and more as the negotiations went along.
His addition would give the Tigers a third left-hander in the bullpen for the final month alongside Jamie Walker and Wilfredo Ledezma, and a big one at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds. Though Miller wouldn't be someone to be used for consecutive days on end, he could potentially be an innings-eater to be used on a somewhat regular schedule.
"In our own mind, there was some sort of rush to get this done, or else September kind of slips away," Dombrowski said. "If it didn't happen at this point, who knows what the time frame would be."
It's an idea that left Miller somewhat awestruck, especially as he watched the Tigers build on their hot start this summer.
"When I first heard the possibility, it's a dream," Miller said. "It didn't seem that realistic. It's exciting, but at the same time, it's exciting to be a part of this organization."
Not even 2004 first-round pick Justin Verlander reached the Majors in such a timetable. His negotiation lasted until the end of the season, precluding him pitching until spring 2005. He made his Major League on July 4 of last year. However, Verlander wasn't viewed nearly as Major League ready coming out of school like the Tigers saw Miller.
Miller's contract is one of the largest of this year's lottery, slightly surpassing the reported four-year, $5.2 million deal that former Tennessee hurler Luke Hochevar signed with the Royals earlier this week. Incentives could reportedly take the value of Miller's deal towards $7.5 million.
However, both sides said their signing had nothing to do with the other.
"It would be unfair to the Detroit Tigers and to David Dombrowski to come to the conclusion that Hochevar's deal led to this deal," Rodgers said. "We were well down the road to getting this deal done several days ago. David and I had several productive conversations well before that. The framework for this deal was in place before the Royals announced their signing. Today's deal would've been done regardless of what happened in Kansas City."
Miller has had just under a couple months off since the collegiate campaign. The Roger Clemens Award winner as the NCAA's top hurler pitched 123 1/3 innings for UNC this season, going 13-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 20 games, 18 of them starts. He racked up 133 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .222 batting average.
"It's kind of been a nice pace, a change of pace," Miller said of the rest. "It's kind of a crushing blow to come off the [College] World Series like that. I've been excited lately, because I'm ready to play baseball again. This is about as long as I've been off."
He'll get his chance to play soon.