On November 17, The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves announced a four-player trade in which the Cardinals received outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden with pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins going to Atlanta.
It was a bold, win-now move by the Cardinals. Faced with a gaping hole in right field following the death of Oscar Taveras less than one month prior, the club emphatically addressed that need.
It is not without risk. Heyward is a proven left-handed hitter and plus defender with two Gold Glove Awards, but is also a player who has just one year remaining on his current contract and has been uneven offensively.
St. Louis gave up a very promising young starting pitcher in Miller who has four seasons remaining until free agency. Both Heyward and Miller are former first-rounders and top prospects.
Heyward, 25, burst onto the scene in 2010 with an all-star season that culminated in the runner-up spot in the National League Rookie of the Year vote. He launched a career-best 27 home runs in 2012, but was less impressive in 2014, batting .271 with 11 home runs, 58 RBI and 20 stolen bases.
The Cardinals stand to benefit over the long haul if Heyward likes the club and remains long term. Even if not, St. Louis should be able to make a qualifying offer next winter and receive a 2016 draft pick if the outfielder moves on after one season.
Walden should set up Trevor Rosenthal in a hard-throwing St. Louis bullpen. The Cardinals can control Walden’s services through 2017 and his addition helps address the hole left by the departure of Pat Neshek as a free agent. Walden’s past closing experience is a plus.
Jenkins is a former first-rounder who may finally be healthy after shoulder problems slowed his career. He has yet to reach Double-A though. Jenkins’ value was sky-high after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
From a payroll perspective, the Cardinals will net up at least $10 million for next season. Heyward will receive $8.3 million while Walden will be paid $2.85 million in a contract extension announced on December 23rd. Miller is slated to make slightly over the major league minimum of $500,000 in 2015 and Jenkins will remain in the minor leagues.
Open questions include whether Heyward can help revive the anemic Cardinals offense and if so, will he stay around beyond 2015?
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