Atlanta Braves send hometown kid Jason Heyward to St. Louis
Rarely in sports do we see trades where we can take an honest look at the details and say it mutually benefited both teams; however we saw that happen on Monday when the Atlanta Braves traded right fielder (RF) Jason Heyward and relief pitcher (RP) Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals for starting pitcher (SP) Shelby Miller and SP prospect Tyrell Jenkins. A true win-win deal for both teams, the Braves were in need of some stability in an unstable rotation, and the Cardinals having a need for a starting RF, after the tragic death of highly-touted prospect Oscar Taveras.
A local kid from McDonough, Georgia, the Braves drafted Heyward in the first round (14th overall pick) of the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft. He burst onto the scene in 2010 at the youthful age of 20, hitting for a .277/.393/.456 triple-slash, with 144 H’s, 29 2B’s, 18 HR’s, 72 RBI’s, 91 BB’s, 128 SO’s, and a .849 OPS in 520 at-bats. He made the All-Star game that season and finishing second to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey for the Rookie of the Year Award. The future was bright for Heyward and the halo of stardom gleamed brightly over him.
Heyward however could never seemed to build off the strong momentum he created for himself that rookie season. He had a couple of injury-plagued seasons while with the Braves, but when healthy, he stayed stagnant, never making the jump to that next level everyone hope he would. Whether it was the pressure of being a hometown kid tasked with the responsibility of shouldering the load of carrying his franchise, or the after-effects of him being hit in the face by a fastball that cut his 2013 season short, Heyward will finish his lackluster 5-year Braves career as a .262/.351/.429 triple-slash, with 644 H’s, 125 2B’s, 84 HR’s, 292 RBI’s, 315 BB’s, 544 SO’s, and a .781 OPS in 2458 at-bats.
But it’s not like the Cardinals are getting a broken player. Heyward will be 25-years old when the 2015 MLB season starts and there are many within baseball circles, including myself (not necessarily in a baseball circle, but I still feel the same way), who believe that there is still a lot of untapped potential in his game. He has a sweet left-handed batting swing with a slight uppercut for added power. He has a good approach at the plate, always being under the 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s a career 24.5 WAR player according to Baseball Reference’s metric, but that’s mainly due to the fact that Heyward gets on-base semi-regularly and is an outstanding defensive RF, with above-average range and arm in the field. His defense and left-handed bat will be a nice fit in St. Louis.
Along with Heyward, the Cardinals will be receiving 27-year old RP Walden, who last season had a 0-2 W-L record, with a 2.88 ERA, 3 SV’s, 27 BB’s, 62 SO’s, and a 1.200 WHIP in 50.0 IP’s. A former closer with the Los Angeles Angels, he signed with the Braves as a free agent in 2013 to be the set-up man for Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. Walden is a hard-throwing RP who will assume the same role with the Cardinals and be added insurance in case fringy Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal decides to implode.
It’s not like the Braves are just giving away Heyward and Walden for nothing either. Coming over to the Braves are two very good and young SP’s in Miller and Jenkins. Miller was a first-round draft pick (19th overall) for the Cardinals in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. The 24-year old Miller has been a reliable SP for the Cardinals. In 2013, his first full-season as a starter for the Cardinals, Miller had a 15-9 W-L record, with a 3.06 ERA, 152 H’s, 20 HR’s, 57 BB’s, 169 SO’s, and a 1.205 WHIP in 31 games started and 173.1 IP. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year Award voting that season, behind tough company in Los Angeles Dodgers RF Yasiel Puig and the winner, Miami Marlins SP Jose Fernandez.
Miller’s numbers did come down in his second season as a starter this past 2014 campaign (10-9 W-L record, 3.74 ERA, 160 H’s, 22 HR’s, 73 BB’s, 127 SO’s, 1.273 WHIP, 31 GS, 183.0 IP), but like Heyward, Miller has a lot of potential as well and many see him eventually ending up as a very good #2 or #3 SP in a rotation. He too, will be a nice fit in a Braves rotation that has a lot of uncertainty surrounding it.
The other piece the Braves will be receiving is highly-rated SP Jenkins. Drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in the first-round (50th overall) of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, Jenkins just completed his first full-season of High-A minor league ball, finishing with a 6-5 W-L record, with a 3.28 ERA, 74 H’s, 6 HR’s, 23 BB’s, 41 SO’s, and a 1.311 WHIP in 13 games started and 74.0 IP. According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Jenkins features a 93-96 mph fastball with good downhill plane, turning the pitch over quite well even at 95 MPH, generating lots of ground balls. His slider is plus at 83-87 mph, with curveball depth, and gets sharper later into his starts. He has a fringy changeup, straight at 86-88 mph, but it’s effective because of his delivery.
This is the first major move made by new Braves General Manager, John Hart, as he has been given the task of reviving a Braves roster that many feel is loaded with talent, but has underwhelmed under the previous regime; and it’s a good move in my opinion for both teams. The Braves had a crowded OF with Heyward, Justin Upton, BJ Upton, and Evan Gattis, all vying for playing time. Heyward is due to become a free agent after the 2015 season, and after committing a huge, and unmovable, contract to (B.J.) Upton in 2013 and with (Justin) Upton also eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, it was becoming more and more apparent that the Braves were going to have a hard time retaining the services of Heyward, and it made the most sense to deal him now, rather than at the trading deadline. The haul that the Braves received in Miller and Jenkins – both are under team control for a while (Miller is eligible for arbitration after the 2015 season and won’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season) – represents the value Heyward still carries amongst MLB circles.
This is equally as good of a move for the Cardinals as well, as they have a stable of young arms in their farm-system and moving a couple of them in order to receive a potential All-Star caliber RF while also adding another power-arm to a bullpen that was in the upper class of the National League, is a solid get. The Cardinals are definitely in a win-now mode, and while it is a bit of a risk for the Cardinals to trade for only one-year of Heyward, they must feel strongly that they can resign him after this season.