Braves and Cardinals Make Blockbuster Trade
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.