In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and the St. Louis Cardinals getting better at every turn of the page.
This morning, the Cardinals turned Shelby Miller and a pitcher fresh off a 5.0 K/9 in A-ball last season into Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward and established reliever Jordan Walden because life is hard, because pain makes you feel, and because St. Louis seems determined to improve their franchise in consistently impressive ways.
This hurts in several ways, the most obvious being that the Cincinnati Reds are in dire need of an outfielder who can get on base who isn't signed to a gargantuan contract, and Jason Heyward - who ticks each of those boxes - is now off the market and on a division rival. It's also a kick in the junk that the NL Central just picked up another player with elite talent who is fresh off the third campaign of at least 5.8 WAR in his five seasons as a professional.
A ton of Heyward's value is tied to his defense, but while that portion of his game may be slightly overstated, he's also a player whose resume can boast a career .351 OBP, a full-season OBP as high as .393, multiple 20 steal seasons, and a single season high of 27 dingers, each of which was put together largely before his 25th birthday. And now, he's a Cardinal, in large part because the Braves either seriously doubted their ability to sign him long term or never considered it a good idea.
It will be interesting to follow how hard the Cardinals pursue an extension with Heyward, who will make $7.8 million in 2015, his last season under contract. In the wake of the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, the club acknowledged publicly that there was a very large void in their long term outfield plans, and while Heyward fills that with impressive ability for 2015, it would be odd for the team to make acquiring him their priority without at least attempting to sign him to a lengthy extension. Heyward, for what it's worth, is only 3 months older than Miami Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton, who just signed a massive $325 million contract extension despite having accrued 3 bWAR fewer in his career than Heyward to date; while I doubt that defensive metrics will be trusted enough to give Heyward a contract that approaches that gargantuan number, he'll still be due one of massive parameters, and the Cardinals certainly have the financial wherewithal to ink him for his prime years should they choose to.
The Braves, to their credit, have realized that their current roster and current production weren't good enough, and they've begun to break things up in an aggressive rebuild under John Hart. The multiple arm injuries suffered by Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy set their rotation back significantly, as has Jonny Venters' arm crumbling and the awful contracts doled out to both B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, and rather than attempt to chase the Marlins and Washington Nationals fruitlessly, they've opted to trade one of their best pieces while they still have significant value. In exchange for one year of Heyward, Atlanta will get four years of Shelby Miller, a highly touted arm who has struggled with health and consistently of late but projects as a top-of-the-rotation arm when at full capacity, and Tyrell Jenkins, the Cardinals' 1st round draft pick from 2010 who cracked several Top 100 prospect lists in years past while pitching in the lower levels of St. Louis's farm system.
But while acquiring arms was a vital priority for Atlanta in their sell-off, both Miller and Jenkins were expendable for a Cardinals club that projects to have a 2015 rotation of Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and one of Jaime Garcia, Tyler Lyons, or one of the bevy of talented free agents on the market in their price range. In fact, the addition of Walden may well open the door for Carlos Martinez to return to starting full time, which is a somewhat terrifying thought.
For the Reds, it means that the division rival they've been chasing for years traded from depth to fill a void very similar to their own. It means that since the Reds finished 7 games back of the Cardinals in the 2013 Central race, St. Louis has aggressively added Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuck, John Lackey, Justin Masterson, Heyward, and Walden to their major league roster, while the Reds have yet to make a trade that added to the 25 man and have opted for minor free agent additions like Brayan Pena and Skip Schumaker. It means one potential piece that could've helped the Reds tremendously is off the table, and is now a division opponent they'll have to deal with on the regular. And while it may also signal that Justin Upton is available via trade, keep in mind that he'll make nearly twice as much as Heyward in 2015 - also his last year under contract before free agency - and notice how Upton has also consistently been less valuable than Heyward over the last three seasons.
Sadly, it also means that merely adding Nori Aoki or Mike Morse won't really make much difference at all in 2015, since that's a move that's already been trumped by one of the clubs the Reds are trying to leap. A winter already chock full of difficult decisions just got infinitely harder for Walt Jocketty, and I'm becoming increasingly wary of his ability to find solution that keeps contending in 2015 a legitimate possibility.
Thanks, John Mozeliak. I'm going to go eat a bowl of cold, labrumless grits now, and echo 'Duk's sentiments:
But I don’t want to start disliking Jason Heyward.
— Kevin Kaduk (@KevinKaduk) November 17, 2014