Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why I Love and Hate the Heyward Trade: A Second Look

At first glance, most trades would appear to have something you love and hate, but the more I considered that idea, the more I felt you either love or hate most player exchanges. Or you come away indifferent. You rarely can find love and hate in the same trade, but Monday's blockbuster with the St. Louis Cardinals did bring out both emotions.

I love that the Braves got something for Jason Heyward. The Braves could have let Heyward play out his contract and picked up a sandwich compensation pick. Another first round pick sounds nice, but in the 25-35 range? In a shallow draft, that's flip-a-coin area. Instead, the Braves got a third year starting pitcher in Shelby Miller and another young pitcher coming off a solid Arizona Fall League run who immediately enters their top ten prospects in Tyrell Jenkins. Had they not made the trade, Heyward's gone and that reminds me...

I hate that the Braves considered Heyward gone. Look, it's clear that the Braves weren't all that interested in the idea of extending their still young right fielder. John Hart had said previously he considered the possibility of an extension highly unlikely, stating that players in their last year often want to at least test the free agent waters. This, as we know, is utter bullshit. Hart and the Braves hadn't even offered Heyward a long-term extension either in the final year or two of Frank Wren's regime or under Hart. Heyward publicly questioned why Braves fans were more interested in keeping Heyward around beyond 2015 while the Braves front office was ready to move on. But some of the pain of Heyward now in a dreaded Cardinals uniform is helped by looking at the top of the pitching staff since...

I love that the Braves staff is now considerably stronger. You can't win in baseball without a starting staff and while Atlanta's staff still won't begin to rival the Nationals' staff, picking up a player of Miller's caliber is hugely important. Before Miller was acquired, the Braves rotation looked like Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, a whole lot of hope, Mike Minor, and David Hale the Eff No. Adding Miller is that hope the Braves needed. Now, Miller is not without his questions. He wasn't that good in 2012 during his final run in the minors (sound like Teheran?) and struggled for the majority of last year. However, like I said, he finished strong and resembled the 2013 version of Miller that had 8.8 K/9, 3 BB/9, and a 3.67 FIP. Miller has 3 fWAR potential and could easily reach that next season. But...

I hate that the Braves are relying on Miller. Short of picking up another starter to plug behind Wood (and the Braves do like Jon Lester), Miller is their guy and that doesn't make me super excited. As much as I just talked him up, Miller had a worse fWAR than B.J. Upton last season. He was worse than Gavin Floyd and Floyd's elbow tried to vacate his body. Miller is a capable pitcher, but is he a guy you want starting playoff games for you? The jury is still out. I typically don't get excited about two-pitch starters, though. I looked at Ross Detwiler as a guy who, despite the Nationals hype machine, was destined to fall back to Earth simply based on being a two-pitch guy. That may not be a fair comparison for Miller and I'm more than happy to be wrong, but as I said a couple of days ago, there is a reason why Miller and four years of team control was made available. Still, it's worth noting that...

I love that the Braves added another young power arm. A lot of the success of this deal will depend less on if Heyward breaks out in 2015 or Miller recaptures his former glory, but if Jenkins develops into a major league pitcher who brings the Braves value. There is reason to believe the Braves will get just that. Jenkins brings it at 92-94 heat with a chance to bring it at 96 mph, plus a nice curve and a work-in-progress changeup. He either projects as a #3 or #4 starter who could move to the pen and become a solid asset there. If in three years, both Miller and Jenkins are making up 40% of the rotation, this deal has to be a win no matter what Heyward does. That said,..

I hate that the Braves didn't get a better prospect. But there are the questions on Jenkins. A first round choice in 2010, Jenkins has struggled to shine while dealing with numerous injuries. He has yet to pitch in AA, though he is ticketed to do that this season. His biggest moment so far came this fall when he played in the Arizona Fall League, though his numbers weren't that impressive (24.1 ING, 10 walks, 18 K's, 1.36 WHIP). Now, Jenkins projects well and that's why he was still a top ten prospect in the Cards and now Braves system, but there certainly is a lot of faith that he scratches the surface on what the projections are for him. Regardless, this deal had to be made and...

I love that the Braves made the move because Heyward's bat was declining rapidly. This appears to be semi controversial and as much as I loved Heyward's all-around capabilities, the Braves needed a bat and there were developing questions there. Over the last three years, Heyward's wOBA has gone from .351 to .344 to .329 last season. This is parallel to his fall in isolated power - .210 to .173 to .113. One can definitely argue batting leadoff forced Heyward did some of the harm, but I don't see it. While Heyward may have been miscast as a leadoff hitter, I doubt he would change his offensive approach to explain the disappearance of power. For instance, there isn't a significant change in his GB% or LD%. Now, he's still young and could still develop into a power hitter, but not with the Braves. That is why...

I hate that we won't see Heyward become the player we all believed he could be. Maybe this is similar to Andruw Jones. Though super productive as a Brave, Andruw was never the guy we expected after watching him pepper the Bronx with homeruns back in 1996. Heyward has suffered similar criticisms. We expected more after his rookie season and again after his 2012 year. But two straight seasons where his numbers were offensively challenged? We appreciated his well-rounded baseball ability, but he was paid to hit and his numbers hadn't reached the levels we expected. Yet. This could have been the year. This still could be the year. Unfortunately, there won't be a tomahawk on his chest for it.

As you can see, there is both good and bad with this trade. Many who have commented said they liked the trade for both teams. Clearly, the Cardinals are in a better position to contend and roll the dice with Heyward. The Braves are, or, based on this trade, they should be in at least a mini-rebuild. Getting something that can be retained for a guy who you didn't want to sign in the first place is just a smart business decision.

And that last bit is why you can both love and hate this trade. As a fan, I hate it. I remember watching Heyward play in Lynchburg with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He homered and made a game-ending catch at the wall. I was immediately a fan of the already hyped young man and couldn't wait for him to arrive in the majors. To put it mildly, arrive he did. Homering in his first at-bat off Carlos Zambrano that had The Ted rocking like it was playoffs time. Sprinkle in his amazing defense (his catch in New York to save a game still defies logic), his base-running (watching him run first-to-home was baseball porn), and personality and you had all the makings of a fan favorite that you want to stick around for years.

But as a fan of the business side of baseball, I can't hate this trade. Logically, I look at four years of Miller + anything I get out of Jenkins as a win when all I gave up was a pending free agent and an increasingly expensive middle reliever who was often injured. Again, that's a no brainer. The Braves are almost certainly worse off in 2015 for it, but in 2016 and 2017? Long-term, this deal works well, especially if the Braves are truly going to rebuild. Suffice it to say, this is the kind of trade I would have made in OOTP with faceless fictional players.

Long story short...I both love and hate this trade. I will both love and hate it when the season begins. I will probably hate it more when the Braves visit St. Louis in late July or when the Cards come to Atlanta to finish the season. Conversely, I will probably love it more if/when Miller throws eight solid frames to help the Braves win. This trade isn't nearly as bad as it felt when it punched me in the throat on Monday, but it isn't as good as some want to make it. Still kind of sucked, though.

7 comments:

  1. You won't ever see Heyward become the player you thought he could be, but neither will you be paying him if he turns into B.J. Upton II in a few years. All of the things that people say about Heyward now were said about Upton three or four years ago. Some players never move forward from where they were when they first established themselves in the majors. Upton was like that, and so far, Heyward has been too.

    Having been burned once, the Braves surely didn't want to risk being burned again.

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    1. While Heyward could never become the player some considered, I don't think the Braves would have been burned. His floor is a lot higher than B.J.'s is/was. At his worst, Heyward is a productive offensive player was amazing baserunning skills and defensive ability. At his worst, B.J. is the guy the Braves have had.

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  2. Miller has great stuff, but needs a smart veteran catcher to keep him from relying on his heater and to trust his curve. I'm not sure you'll be getting 8 innings out of him very often, but he may develop into that guy. I do know that the Cards did NOT trust him in playoff situations until this year, and now he's traded... He could be a solid #3 starter and if he can avoid injury will be a workhorse.
    If the cards don't extend Heyward, this trade will be redemption for the Drew/Waino deal I suppose. Throwing in Jenkins, who I think will be in the starting five for you guys by 2017 if he stays healthy, I don't see how the Cards will come away winners on this trade unless Heyward settles in, produces, and stays -- otherwise we get a 1st round pick and a reliever for two starters... buh.

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    1. Thank you for your side of things. Always helpful to hear from the other side of the trade.

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  3. Agree with Anonymous #1. There are more ways for the trade to work for the Braves than Cardinals. Ways it works for St Louis: 1) unlikely -Cards win WS in 2015 or 2) Cards re-sign Heyward. Ways it works for Atlanta: 1) likely- Miller improves the team now and for years to come at a good price, allowing the Braves to purchase additional WAR.

    To me, the upside to Miller is more likely to happen, and less expensive when it does. See May 10, 2013....after leadoff single, Miller threw a perfect game.

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    1. Compelling argument. While it's tempting to agree, I will hold off. I think the trade can still work out for the Cards even if Heyward is gone after one year and remains ringless. Just getting to the playoffs is enough considered what a crapshoot it has turned into. Take your chances and hope it works. Plus, they will get a compensation pick.

      I do hope your spot on as far as how likely it is that Miller's upside plays up big.

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    2. Understand your sentiments. Shelby always had swagger and confidence. Sophomore jinx was broken in August with a new curve that shut out a great Pittsburgh offense. Look for Shelby to take the Cardinals confidence thing-if you can call it that- and attempt to become the emotional leader of the staff. Not wainwright, sorry. But like the workhorse Lynn, absolutely.

      Recommendation: Watch Shelbys August footage against the Pirates in its entirity. He has turned the corner. Watch out!

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