The White Sox and left-handed reliever Zach Duke agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal on Tuesday, according to a team announcement.
Duke will earn $4.5 million in the first year of the deal and will see the value increase by $500,000 in each of the next two seasons. The agreement comes after a season in which Duke out of nowhere became one of the top relievers in the National League. The 31-year-old veteran finished the year with a 2.45 ERA and struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings for the Brewers, who contended for a Wild Card spot but ultimately fell short. Before his strong campaign, Duke owned a 4.57 ERA in more than 1,000 big league innings. He's always been good at limiting walks, but Duke never struck out more than 6.6 batters per nine innings in a season until 2014.
A couple of pitchers who have a longer stretch of sustained success might be on the brink of receiving lucrative free-agent contracts as a result of Duke's haul.
Andrew Miller -- a failed left-handed starter-turned-reliever like Duke -- just finished his third consecutive dominant season out of the bullpen. Miller is two years younger, and since becoming a full-time reliever, has struck out 202 batters in 133⅓ innings. If Duke pulled in an average annual value of $5 million, Miller could get double that. The North Carolina alum was predicted to receive a four-year, $32 million deal by MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes, but that was prior to the haul Duke reeled in from the White Sox.
Joe Thatcher hasn't had the same career path as Duke and Miller, but the 33-year-old southpaw has made a living off of being an effective big league LOOGY. Thatcher has whiffed more than a batter per inning in eight seasons while posting a 3.40 ERA. He enjoyed a lot of early success in offense-suppressed San Diego, but he was also on track for one of his best seasons while pitching in Arizona in 2014 before being dealt to the Angels, so that might not penalize him much. It wouldn't be the strangest thing in the world for Thatcher to receive a deal similar to Duke's, which would mean a twofold increase in annual salary for the Indiana native.
Mike Adams, Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm could also benefit from the deal, though none of the three would command the type of contract that Miller or Thatcher will likely land. They have Duke, who was released by the Astros and Nationals before resurrecting his career in Milwaukee, to thank for that.