In case you've been under a rock and haven't heard yet, the Cardinals, in a move that shores up their outfield and relief corps without significantly damaging the starting rotation, acquired Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden from the Braves in exchange for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Beyond the Box Score's Jeff Wiser broke down the trade from Atlanta's point of view earlier; I'll be looking at it from St. Louis' vantage point.
Why acquire Heyward and Walden?
First, the deal's centerpiece: Heyward. He's been a beast since entering the big leagues in 2010, averaging 4.6 fWAR/600 PA and contributing heavily on both sides of the ball. His defense has steadily improved, to the tune of 22.8 and 24.1 UZR in 2012 and 2014, putting him second in the majors behind Alex Gordon this year. As Baseball-Reference pointed out on Twitter, he's been the second-best defender in baseball over his career by dWAR, behind only Carlos Gomez. He can even play center when necessary, although the Cardinals shouldn't require that given they have Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos on the roster. Randal Grichuk is waiting in the wings in right as well, giving the Cardinals as crowded an outfield as the Braves had before the deal (and less than it would have been sans the Oscar Taveras tragedy). The question is this: will the Cardinals keep their outfield, or move a piece to replace Miller in the rotation? Jay and Bourjos are both under 30 and could probably bring in a decent back-end starter. Only the rest of the offseason will tell.
Since his "down" year in 2011, when he had only a .313 wOBA, Heyward has kept his line drive rate hovering around 20% while increasing his fly ball percentage. At age 25, and having been in the majors for a while now, Heyward is pretty much a known quantity. He'll give you plus hitting, plus-plus defense, and be pretty durable. The Cardinals were already an excellent team, as evidenced by their run to the NLCS before their devil magic ran out, and the addition of Heyward only adds value to the cream of the NL Central.
The more interesting question for the Cardinals is not 2015, but beyond. With Heyward's contract expiring after the season, St. Louis will have to pay big-time to keep him around. I don't think any of us expect him to get Giancarlo Stanton money, but at just 25 he'll certainly be looking for something in the range of 10 years/$200 million, as Dave Cameron suggests. The Cardinals are in the middle of the pack in terms of payroll, but it's not out of the question that they'd put their faith and dollars in Heyward if he flourishes.
Jordan Walden, on the other hand, is certainly not going to cost anywhere near $200 million. His fastball pushes 100 at times, and he's shown promise by striking out over a batter per inning for his career, but control is a big issue. He walked 4.86 batters per 9 innings last year, ninth in the majors (right behind new teammate Trevor Rosenthal!). His FIP numbers have been good (2.80 for his career), and he does a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, especially in homer-friendly Turner Field (4.9% HR/FB, right behind Craig Kimbrel for 27th in the majors).
Walden, who just turned 27 yesterday, joins Rosenthal, Pat Neshek, and others to form a pretty solid bullpen corps. If former Brave Derek Lilliquist can work some Dave Duncan magic and bring down Walden's walk rate, the Cardinal relievers will become even more fearsome.
Why deal Miller and Jenkins?
Let's start with the easy one: Jenkins. He has decent upside, projecting to be a major-league regular if he can work out a solid secondary pitch, but he's at least two years away from making the bigs. At only 22, this isn't necessarily cause for concern, but the Cardinals are playing for the here and now, and Jenkins won't help with that. Part of the luxury of such a deep farm system is that you can deal players like Jenkins without sacrificing too much depth, and the Cardinals did just that to make significant improvements at the big-league level.
Braves flip Heyward in a move that had to be made
The Braves made a deal that looks questionable on the surface, but once digging in, had to be made.
Miller is a bit more puzzling, but there are several reasonable explanations for letting him go. He's never been a power pitcher but has shown the ability to significantly beat his peripherals over 2+ major-league seasons. The issue is that when you're starting from a 4.03 career FIP, even bettering it by .70 in ERA as Miller has still doesn't make you a top-flight pitcher. However, with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and the recently-acquired John Lackey already in the rotation, the Cardinals don't need top-flight, just consistency. As mentioned above, getting Heyward gives them the flexibility to deal an outfielder for a proven starter, lessening the loss felt by dealing Miller.
St. Louis is basically betting that Miller won't develop into the star they thought he might be when they took him with the 19th overall pick back in the 2009 draft. Their eyes are also on the present more than the future, meaning they'll gladly take some long-term loss of value in exchange for short-term gain. That's the crux of the entire trade as well: even though they'll have the ability to sign Heyward, this move was designed for contention in 2015. The gut feeling many had when first hearing of the trade – "Why would the Braves do that?" – serves as a good indication of who won the trade, at least in the short term. Look out, NL central.
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Steven Silverman is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and a student at Carnegie Mellon University. He also writes for Batting Leadoff. You can follow him on Twitter at @Silver_Stats or email him at Steven@SilverStats.com.