Monday, November 17, 2014

What is the long-term (and short-term) impact of the Cardinals acquisition of Jason Heyward from the Braves.

In case you missed it, the Cardinals made a big move today, acquiring Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden from the Braves in exchange for Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

GM John Mozeliak let it be known that the Cards were looking to find an upgrade for their right field spot, after the loss of Oscar Taveras left them with Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty as their only internal options, and Mo did not wait long to make a move.

Let's look at the impact of this move on the Cardinals both in the short term and long term.

Short Term

Heyward will immediately step in as the Cards starting right fielder, meaning that Grichuk will likely serve as the team's 4th (or 5th) outfielder.  Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Heyward will be the starting trio in the outfield, with Peter Bourjos and Grichuk serving as backups. 

Heyward is widely considered an excellent right fielder, having won two Gold Gloves, including just recently winning the 2014 award.  He has some pop, hitting as many as 27 home runs in a season (in 2012), but his power has waned in recent years, as he hit just 11 homers in 2014 and had a .384 slugging percentage.  Given that he is just 25 years old, he could still regain his power stroke.  However, even if he doesn't his defense and his speed (20 stolen bases while being caught only 4 times in 2014) still make him a valuable player and a nice addition to the 2015 lineup.

On the pitching side, losing Miller hurts, but the addition of Walden could allow the Cardinals to slide Carlos Martinez into Miller's rotation spot, with Walden serving as the setup man.  Marco Gonzales is another possibility and the team might decide to go with him instead if only to allow them to keep Martinez and his power arm in the pen.

Much could depend on whether the Cards bring in another reliever (or two) this offseason, to offset the losses of Pat Neshek and Jason Motte.

Overall, I like this move from a 2015 standpoint, as the offense (and defense) should be better with the addition of Heyward, while the pitching should not skip a beat, as the combination of Martinez and Gonzales should make up for the loss of Miller and Walden should help in the bullpen.

Long Term

Here's where things could swing in the Braves favor.

A lot depends on whether the Cardinals can sign Heyward to an extension.  He is only under contract through the 2015 season and if he leaves for free agency, the Cards will be left with just Walden. 

The Braves on the other hand, will have 4 more years of Miller (including the 2015 season) and 6 years of Jenkins.

After a great rookie year, in which he posted a 3.06 ERA and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting, Miller struggled in 2014.  He was inconsistent for most of the year and saw his ERA rise to 3.74, while his strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) decreased from 8.8 in 2013 to 6.2 in 2014.  He is only 23 and certainly has the ability and stuff to bounce back, but there were some concerns about Miller after he didn't pitch in the 2013 postseason and the Cards seem to have been shopping him for a while.

Jenkins, of course, is the real wildcard here.  In 5 minor league seasons, he has yet to pitch above A ball, mainly due to injuries.  However, he had a good showing in 2014 at high A Palm Beach (3.28 ERA in 74 IP).  He was rated as high as the Cardinals #8 prospect by Baseball America, prior to the 2013 season, but fell to the #17 slot prior to 2014.  He's still got a live arm, throwing in the mid-90's, but needs to prove he can stay healthy.

Overall, I like this trade.  Yes, we may lose Heyward after the 2015 season, but the Cardinals have shown the ability to retain players they have acquired via trade in the past (Matt Holliday being the most recent example).  There are questions surrounding Miller, as there are with Heyward, but the Cards are still getting 2 proven major leaguers for one somewhat shaky starter and a prospect. 

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