Friday, September 18, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: Heyward/Miller

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! And I had to ignore a lot of the minor deals to come to that number. Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With most of the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino

The Trade
Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. I reviewed the deal first with a knee-jerk reaction and second with the reasons I both loved and hated the deal.

The Rationale
For the Braves, the deal was accepting the inevitable. Heyward was a goner in the post-2015 world so why not be proactive and make a trade to get something now. While Heyward was both a fan favorite and young enough to expect even bigger things out of him, he was also a guy who - in the midst of a plethora of extensions being handed out - accepted a short-term deal after 2013 to buy out his remaining arbitration years. He was gone and we all seemed to feel it happening even if some fans held out hope the Braves would suddenly find $20 million in their other pants.

Beyond just giving up Heyward, the Braves were also staring at a lack of pitching in both the minors and, more notably, the major league rotation. Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang were free agents and exiting with their combined 400.1 innings. Alex Wood and Julio Teheran were returning along with the questions that were present with Mike Minor. Injured Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were even bigger question marks and both would be non-tendered rather than brought back. The Braves needed a starter and got one in Miller, who had showed both the good and not-so-good about his game in two seasons in the majors.

The addition of Jenkins and Walden in this trade were less noteworthy to this trade, but for the Braves, the trade also gave them an exciting, if unknown, hurler. The Braves needed young pitching and if Walden smoothed over the concerns of the Cardinals, that was just fine because the Braves would find some relievers somewhere to help out. Right? ...sadface

I'm not a Cards expert, but we all knew the Cardinals saw Heyward as an immediate replacement to Oscar Taveras, the exciting rookie who had tragically perished in an automobile accident. Walden was also expected to shore up a bullpen that was losing Carlos Martinez to the rotation. Plus, I have to believe the Cards were not anxious to use a 40-man spot on the unknown Jenkins, but also didn't want to lose him in the Rule 5 draft for nothing.

Short-Term Results
Let's start with the Cardinals first. Heyward has largely stayed healthy and productive for the Cards this season, though the power numbers remain disappointing. He remains an elite-level player in center, though his metrics haven't been as crazy awesome as they were last year when he had 32 DRS. All in all, Heyward has been great for St. Louis and paces them in WAR according to both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. He remains on track to hit free agency after the World Series - a Series the Cards are strong contenders to reach.

As for Walden, he got off to a great start, but hit the DL at the end of April with a biceps injury. Later on, rotator cuff trouble kept him on the mend and efforts to get back on the mound have proved unsuccessful. His season officially came to a close a few weeks ago. He's trying to avoid surgery because the rate of pitchers that return from that particular surgery is not high. Interestingly, a physical let the Cards know that his shoulder possibly had issues, but that didn't stop them from promising $6M through 2016 to Walden.

Very little hasn't been said about Miller at this point. Relying more on a two-seam fastball than ever, Miller has been a different pitcher for the Braves than he was with the Cardinals. Of course, we all know about the loses - a league-high 15 right now. He's gone 22 starts since his last win, a streak that ties Carl Morton for the most consecutive starts without a win for the Atlanta record and is four games off the pace for the franchise record. It should be added (I guess) that Miller's case is special since his streak is restrained to one season unlike the other two. Our old buddy Jo-Jo Reyes and Matt Keough hold the MLB record at 28 straight winless starts while Jack Nabors holds the single season record with 27.

But unlike them, Miller has been very productive. His 3.00 ERA, which is on the rise, would still set a new low. He's matched his previous two seasons' output with two shutouts in 2015 while already setting a new high in innings. He'll likely add a new strikeout high before the end of the season. On a team without a lot going right and even with Miller's crazy winless streak, he's been consistent for Atlanta in giving them a chance to win - even if they are too inept to take advantage of it.

As for Jenkins, he stayed (mostly) healthy this season for the first time in his career and logged 138.1 ING between AA and AAA. Just 23 years-old, Jenkins has a real opportunity to parlay his success into an extended look next spring.

Long-Term Outlook
Again, let's start with St. Louis. Walden is a toss-up at this point if he's going to avoid surgery and if he doesn't, it's a toss-up if he ever pitches in the majors again. That's unfortunate because he's such a fun pitcher to watch and when he's on, he's really on. Heyward's been hitting well this month and looks primed for a big pay day. If it doesn't come with the Cardinals, it'll come from someone. There is a real chance Heyward will get $200M this offseason even though people who value traditional counting stats won't understand why. Without a World Series ring, the Cardinals could be looking at one-and-done with Heyward and little from Walden as the price for Miller and Jenkins.

The Braves will take that exchange, of course. Miller seemed primed to spend the next few seasons helping to shore up the front of Atlanta's staff. He's arbitration-eligible for the first time this season and has been pretty durable to this point. Atlanta might even look to lock Miller up for the foreseeable future rather than go year-to-year with him, though that's just a guess. As for Jenkins, again, he could be in the staff next spring, though I believe he'll be too low from the starting depth chart to sneak his way into the staff. Nevertheless, with some productive outings at Gwinnett, he'll be in the majors sooner rather than later.

Overall, Atlanta can make the claim that they've already won this deal, though the Cardinals could easily say they have the pitching to compete and adding Miller wouldn't have made them all that much better. Conversely, not having Heyward may have wrecked them. Either way, the Braves weren't going to keep Heyward and are glad to have a pair of arms to play on their next good team.

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