Braves and Cardinals Make Blockbuster Trade

jason-heyward-miller

The Atlanta Braves have traded outfielder Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins.

The Braves’ rebuilding project has officially begun.

Though I heard rumors of Atlanta’s shopping of Heyward, I’m still surprised they parted with the strapping young outfielder — and that they dealt him for a pitcher coming off a suspicious season.

Yes, Heyward is also coming off a suspicious season — well, actually, two suspicious seasons. After breaking out with 27 HR and a .814 OPS as a 22-year-old in 2012, Heyward followed up with two injury-riddled, offensively disappointing seasons. Over the past two years his power has dropped dramatically and strikeout rate risen. However, his OBP has increased, his defensive remains stellar, and he’s only 25 years old — in my mind, this is hardly the time to give up on him and his raw ability. My feeling is that his power outage in 2014 had something to do with nagging injuries that he played through — among other issues, he dealt with neck spasms, back issues, a hamstring problem, and a sore thumb. As for 2013, he missed a huge chunk of the season after catching a Jon Niese pitch with his jaw; I feel like you can’t judge Hewyard on that abbreviated season.

Then again, the Braves should know “J-Hey” better than anyone, and maybe they believe Heyward’s physical ailments will always be a problem. And/or, maybe they think his waning power had something to do with fastball to the face — some people think similarly about David Wright and his frightening interaction with Matt Cain several years ago.

What the Braves get in return are two young pitchers, one of whom appeared to be on the verge of MLB stardom after winning 15 games as a rookie in 2013. Only 24 years old, Miller joins a group of young starters in Atlanta after a somewhat disappointing 2014, in which he went 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA, and experienced a startling drop in strikeouts per nine innings — only 6.6. His walk rate jumped to 3.6. But here’s the good news for Braves fans: after going through a though time early in the season, he seemed to make some kind of adjustment, and his second-half numbers were remarkably better. Finishing strong is a good sign; had he pitched well at the outset, and experienced control issues toward the end of the year, I’d wonder if there was a forearm or elbow issue about to rear its ugly head.

In addition to the marquee players swapped, the Redbirds add another flamethrower to the bullpen in Walden — who, despite his velocity, seemed always on the verge of losing complete control of everything — and the Braves add yet another young arm to their stockpile. Tyrell Jenkins is not an uber-prospect, but he does show promise, is only 21, and coming off a decent year in high-A ball. Once the #4 prospect in the Cardinals’ organization and in Baseball America’s Top 100, Jenkins’ star fell as he put up not-so-nice numbers, before undergoing surgery in late 2013 to repair a lat muscle that had been problematic from the beginning of his pro career. From all reports, he was healthy for the first time in 2014, though I’m not sure if he was still reaching 95-96 MPH as he did when he was drafted 50th overall in 2010. An outstanding athlete who turned down a football scholarship from Baylor to play pro ball, Jenkins could rise quickly if he regains the velocity and keeps his mechanics consistent. Of course, he could also fizzle, but that’s the way it is with prospects.

So what does this deal mean to the Mets? On the one hand, they don’t have to face Heyward 19 times a season any more. Though, he did more with his glove than his bat against the Mets — in 313 PAs vs. the orange and blue, Heyward hit .251 with 8 HR and a .732 OPS (and only .206 with 5 HR and .681 OPS at Citi Field). Walden was hit or miss against the Mets — literally and figuratively — as he posted a 4.80 ERA in 15 appearances, with an eye-popping 13.8 K/9 rate. On the other hand, barring injury, the Mets will now have to face Miller about four times a year, and the Braves’ rotation should be at least the same if not slightly better with his presence — it all depends on who else Atlanta acquires, and whether Brandon Beachy and/or Kris Medlen can return from their respective Tommy John surgeries.

But this wasn’t the only reinforcement the Braves made in the past few days — they also, in a quieter deal, traded NJ native Tommy La Stella to the Cubs for reliever Arodys Vizcaino. La Stella wasn’t spectacular in his rookie season, but I liked his spunk and all-around skill set. Again, I’m a little surprised by the Braves making this move, because even if they don’t share my enthusiasm for La Stella, they don’t have much else at second base — at least, not until hot prospect Jose Peraza arrives, and that may not be until 2016. Then again, the Braves are known to promote youngsters earlier than other clubs, and maybe they think Peraza — who turns 21 next April — will be ready as soon as next year. According to various scouting reports, Peraza already has a big-league glove and runs the bases like Billy Hamilton. Vizcaino returns to the Braves (he was dealt to Chicago as part of the trade for Paul Maholm in 2012) and should have a shot at a bullpen spot. The 24-year-old righthander missed most of 2012 and 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, but returned in 2014 showing a 95+ MPH fastball and knee-collapsing curveball. As for the Cubs acquiring La Stella, I don’t get it at all — they already have about 15 people who play second base and/or shortstop. But, maybe it’s a precursor to a bigger deal that may involve one of those phenoms. I doubt it, though; I just don’t see the Cubs moving Starlin Castro, Addison Russell, or Javier Baez because they now have La Stella. I like La Stella, but he’s not the next Jeff Kent.

Perhaps more interesting about the Cubs-Braves trade is that it also involved the two teams’ international bonus slots. The Cubs get the Braves’ number four slot ($142K) in exchange for Chicago’s second ($458K), third ($309.3K), and fourth ($206.7K) slots. This part of the deal I don’t entirely understand, and I encourage you to check out this article at Baseball America as well as this article to get a better handle on it.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Dan Capwell November 18, 2014 at 7:15 am
    Lost in the early offseason shuffle is the apparent Washington Nationals loss of Adam LaRoche. They have other players who get more attention, but every time I saw them play, LaRoche was always in the middle of their offense. He lead them in homers and did OPS 817 for them last year. I am never hopeful of a situation where a team moves pieces around to replace a departed player. If he goes, that is big blow to them.

    Washington may come back to the pack, while Atlanta and Philadelphia appear to be in rebuild mode. That does leave the door open somewhat for both our heroes and the Marlins to step in.

    Hopefully, Sandy (and the Wilpons) see this too.

  2. DaveSchneck November 18, 2014 at 9:21 am
    Joe,
    I for one will be glad to see Walden out of the NL East, not so much that he dominated the Mets but because of his annoying delivery. I haven’t see the Braves in the same light for the last several years, even when they somehow won 96 games two years ago. Throw in a few TJ surgeries, bad FA signings, and some picks that don’t pan out and a franchise can sink very quickly. The Braves will be aiming towards being better for the opening of their new stadium, but they should be concerned as their fan base was rather ho hum even when they were winning divisions all the time.

    Dan, I certainly did take notice that LaRoche and the Nats have split, and I did rejoice a little inside. Hopefully he winds up on the Padres or in the AL and not on the Marlins hitting behind Stanton. Washington is still very strong without him and way ahead of the Mets at this date. Hopefully Alderson will upgrade elsewhere and close that gap, but I see no way that he can close the gap completely (from a projected wins perspective) before the season begins.

  3. argonbunnies November 18, 2014 at 12:51 pm
    Everyone seems to be assuming the Heyward trade means the Braves are rebuilding. I think that’s jumping the gun a bit. If they trade Upton and Gattis for prospects, then we’ll know, but right now? They traded a guy who they wouldn’t be able to afford in free agency and brought back a pitcher who went from one of the top pitching prospects in the game to a rookie of the year candidate to a brief disappointment that improved late. Miller might be pretty good pretty immediately. This is a move that doesn’t prioritize 2015 alone, but it’s not a punt on 2015 either.

    Freeman/Simmons/Teheran/Kimbrel is a great foundation, Upton and Gattis hit homers like few others, Alex Wood is nasty, Minor may yet return to his former self, and if Carpenter and Varvaro don’t excel then someone else in their pen will. This is a team that can dream of the playoffs if it wants to. We’ll see what their next move is…

    • DanB November 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm
      Even if the Braves are rebuilding they are the kings of the quick retool (them and the Cardinals). The Mets have been retooling for four years and have yet to reach 500. The Met’s window of opportunity is starting to close. Harvey will be gone by trade or FA sooner then later (the spin machine Met blog already posted a story questioning Harvey’s character). It will be an interesting race to see who gets back into the playoffs first, Braves or Mets. And who stays there longer.
  4. Bat November 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm
    Not sure I would characterize this as “rebuilding” as rebuilding usually implies that a team is basically expecting to lose for awhile?

    This is more on the fly transition to a different type of team. Not sure if there is a single word that captures the essence of that thought, but I don’t think the Braves are making these trades with an eye towards the future but rather the present.

    Give new Braves GM John Hart credit. The man said this on November 11:

    “We are in a division that is pitching rich and right now, we are pitching poor.”

    And then he turned around and dealt La Stella for Vizcaino, and Heyward and a guy in A ball (i.e., not ready to help in the short term) for Miller and Walden.

    Basically the man identified that the Braves need pitchers one week ago, and one week later has acquired three guys to compete for spots on the major league roster.

    Is it worth the cost? Tough to say but Heyward has added big-time value on defense even though his offense has struggled the past two years. I foresee the defense remaining stellar in St. Louis; the offense returning; and a large extension being signed by Heyward.

    Ever notice the Cardinals always seem to acquire guys in their walk years and get them to re-sign? McGwire and Holliday come to mind, but there have been a number of others I am forgetting in this exact moment.

    • norme November 18, 2014 at 3:42 pm
      Bat,
      Look at the trade a little more carefully. I think you’ve mixed up the specifics. It’s Heyward and Walden for Miller “and a guy in A ball.”

      Good point about the Cards and getting guys to re-sign—–or knowing when to let them go (see Pujols and the ridiculous contract with the Angels.).

      I think Joe’s point about the international bonus slots means that a true evaluation of this deal may take a number of years to be valid.

  5. Bat November 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm
    Thanks for pointing out that the A ball was coming to the Braves.

    I see that they are now meeting with Jon Lester so these guys are trying hard to improve the pitching:

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/11896873/jon-lester-meet-atlanta-braves-thursday

  6. Bat November 18, 2014 at 5:43 pm
    And Lester apparently has an offseason home in Atlanta according to this ESPN article, so he must like the city.