Major League Baseball's offseason went from a simmering stove to a burning-hot one in no time at all by midday Monday. Three major news stories broke, including the reported agreement between the Miami Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton on a 13-year, $325 million dollar deal, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and free-agent catcher Russell Martin signing a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
But the first real blockbuster trade of the offseason happened, too.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves completed a swap that sends right-hander Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves in exchange for outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden, as the Cardinals announced:
There are two big names in there and several ramifications to consider, so let's get to it, starting with the Braves side of things.
Why Atlanta Had to Make This Move
This is the second significant trade the team has made in short order under new general manager John Hart.
The deal comes on the heels of the one over the weekend that sent second baseman Tommy La Stella to the Chicago Cubs for Arodys Vizcaino, a 24-year-old right-hander who debuted and pitched out of the Braves bullpen in 2011 before they sent him to Chicago in exchange for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson in July 2012.
Miller is a solid mid-rotation arm who joins righty Julio Teheran and left-handers Mike Minor and Alex Wood. The 24-year-old, who won't reach free agency until after the 2018 season, looked like a potential stud in the first half of 2013, his rookie season, as he put up a 2.92 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 in 18 starts.
The 2009 first-rounder's performance dipped noticeably this past year, however, as he compiled a 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 6.2 K/9, although he was much better in the second half (2.92 ERA) than in the first (4.29 ERA).
Jenkins, a 22-year-old righty, is a nice flier prospect to take a chance on now that the former 2010 supplemental-round pick is finally healthy again. While Jenkins has yet to pitch above High-A, he just put up a 2.22 ERA over 24.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League, seventh most in that prospect circuit, to bring his 2014 total to just shy of 100 frames overall.
Here is some footage of Jenkins in the the AFL, courtesy of fellow Bleacher Report MLB lead writer and prospect analyst Mike Rosenbaum:
Between Miller, Jenkins and Vizcaino, the Braves are stocking up on young, power right-handers with both upside and several years of team control. The club had been targeting arms, according to David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, so it's been busy addressing that need.
Where it gets interesting for Atlanta is what Hart and Co. might do next.
The Braves could move catcher Evan Gattis, who has slugged 43 home runs in his first 783 plate appearances in the majors, to left field and shift Justin Upton to right. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the Gattis-to-left-field switch last week.
But speculation surrounds both Gattis and Upton as possible pieces to be moved, as O'Brien notes. While Gattis has four more years of club control, Upton is a free agent after 2015, like Heyward, so it might behoove Hart to see what he can get for either or both now that the first major chip—Heyward—has been moved.
"We have talent on this club," Hart said prior to the trade, via Sherman. "But we don’t have enough talent at the upper levels of the minors. That is what I have been doing for most of my time on the job, reorganizing so we can get talent back into the system. But that is a three-to-five-year job. You will not see the results now."
After a disappointing 2014 in which the Braves went 27-40 in the second half, finished under .500 for the first time since 2008 and fired longtime GM Frank Wren, the new front office looks to be focusing its efforts on rebuilding toward 2017, when the new ballpark opens. In other words, Atlanta might still have a few more cards to play.
Speaking of Cards...
Why St. Louis Had to Make This Move
The Cardinals immediately and dramatically improve their offense and defense by obtaining Heyward, who finished just inside the top 10 among all outfielders with 5.1 wins above replacement (per FanGraphs) in 2014.
The 25-year-old right fielder has long been one of the very best defenders, and in fact, he won his second Gold Glove in early November and was awarded the Platinum Glove as the top overall fielder in the NL.
Heyward has been through ups and down offensively, on the other hand, but his strength always has been getting on base, as evidenced by his .351 career on-base percentage. That makes him an ideal fit for the second spot in St. Louis' batting order, where he can hit after fellow on-base machine Matt Carpenter and before the run-producing portion that includes Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta.
As Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com writes: "In the lineup, Heyward would be a natural fit to hit in one of the top two spots in the lineup, giving the Cardinals flexibility to move Matt Carpenter down in the batting order, if desired. Heyward hit 26 doubles and 11 homers while driving in 58 for Atlanta in 149 games in 2014."
The Cardinals also could work toward a multi-year extension with Heyward between now and the end of 2015, before he reaches free agency. Locking up a good young player who still could have some untapped potential would make this an even better move for GM John Mozeliak.
As is, the club doesn't have any especially onerous contracts, what with ace Adam Wainwright's $78 million through 2018 as the largest pact, and Holliday's $17 million per year coming off the books after the 2016 campaign (unless his 2017 option for the same amount is picked up).
Considering that the Cardinals finished 2014 with the seventh-worst offense by runs scored and have been intent on improving their defense (read: acquiring Peralta and center fielder Peter Bourjos last winter), Heyward is a great match, even if it is for only one season.
He's also a much-needed addition because of the very unfortunate and tragic death of Oscar Taveras, a 22-year-old phenom who was pegged to play right field until he passed away in an automobile accident in his native Dominican Republic in late October.
And let's not overlook the other player St. Louis gets in this transaction, reliever Jordan Walden. He gives the Cardinals yet another late-inning power arm from the right side to go with Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal.
In fact, this acquisition might bring about speculation that 27-year-old Walden, an All-Star closer with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, could handle the eighth or ninth inning and allow the Cardinals to shift either Martinez or Rosenthal to the rotation.
Those two former top prospects came up as starters but converted to the bullpen mainly because that was the team's primary area of need at the time. But now that Miller is out of the picture and Michael Wacha, who battled through a rare stress reaction in his right shoulder, is a bit of a question mark, it wouldn't be surprising to see one of Martinez or Rosenthal move back into a starting role.
Again, here's Langosch on the club's rotation options: "Along with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Michael Wacha returning, the Cardinals expect to have Jaime Garcia back from thoracic outlet surgery. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales also remain starting options."
In that scenario, St. Louis essentially replaces Miller with an arm that could be just as effective, meaning this transaction could result in no drop-off in the five-man at all and a major upgrade in the outfield for a contender aiming to reach the postseason for the fifth straight year and return to the World Series for the third time in that span.
Given all of the layers and ramifications involved in this trade, the first real blockbuster of the offseason shouldn't disappoint—for either side.
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