The Cardinals appear to have solved the question in right field by acquiring Jason Heyward from the Braves for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. The Cardinals will also receive Jordan Walden, a high strikeout right-handed reliever who won't reach free agency until 2017. Jenifer Langosch tweeted the news.
Heyward, just 25 years-old, has yet to reach the stratospheric offensive heights the Braves hoped he would after his illustrious debut season in 2010. However, as his career .262/.351/.429 line indicates, he has been a good hitter, and he has made a mark as the best defensive right-fielder in the game. He was made available by the Braves as it became apparent that they would not be able to keep both Justin Upton and Jason Heyward beyond 2015. In Miller and Jenkins, they have landed some of the young pitching they coveted. Bernie Miklasz wrote about the possibility of a deal like this just last Saturday.
Heyward is set to be a free agent after 2015, so an immediate question is will the Cardinals be able to sign him to an extension, and when? Despite recent comments by Braves GM John Hart, Heyward's public statements have not sounded like those of a man hellbent on reaching free-agency. Heyward's solid bat and outstanding glove give him a high floor as a player, and there's still time for his bat to develop into something special. Offensive improvement in 2015 could set him up for a mega-deal next year. On the other hand, he's been injured a bit and his power dropped off in 2014. If he doesn't rebound in that department, he might not find free agency as lucrative as he hopes. All of which is to say, it might make sense for both parties to split the difference and pay Heyward for being halfway between very good and superstar money in a possible extension this winter. As Derrick Goold recently wrote, the Cardinals have the payroll flexibility to do this. And it's worth noting that the Cardinals will receive a compensation pick in the 2016 draft should they not be able to work out a deal with Heyward.
Jordan Walden is set to be a key piece for the Cardinals' bullpen this year. He combines an outstanding fastball with a very good slider and an effective changeup to put up elite strikeout numbers. His walk-rate was a bit high in 2014 after improving in that regard in 2013, but he managed an ERA and FIP under 3 anyway.
Shelby Miller has looked both extraordinary and terrible so far in his brief career. His improvement late in 2014 should give Braves fans hope, as should his youth. There's plenty to like in Miller's game, but the concerns are also real. We'll watch his career progress now from afar.
Tyrell Jenkins has flashed plenty of potential, but he's also been hurt a lot and struggled with command. Derrick Goold recently provided a terrific overview of him here. There's a high ceiling there, but also a high flameout risk.
Looking at the rest of the roster, there are two other developments here. First, with Miller gone and another power righty in the bullpen, Carlos Martinez appears set to have a very real chance to make the rotation next season. Second, Randal Grichuk will not start next season. It's unlikely Heyward and Grichuk will platoon, but given each player's splits, Grichuk will be a good option to give Heyward occasional off days against lefties. More importantly, he'll provide a potent bench bat to deploy against lefty relievers as the Cardinals' lineup becomes more lefty heavy. Bourjos and Scruggs seem like potential contributors here as well.
Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina will need to shoulder much of the load against LHP, while Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay will hope to continue to be effective against same-handed pitching. However, with the acquisition of Jason Heyward, the Cardinals now not only improve their already good defense, but will run out a lineup that should be extraordinarily dangerous against RHP.
The downside here is that Heyward walks and Jenkins or Miller become a star. The upside is that the Cardinals likely just made a marked improvement to their 2015 squad by dealing from depth while getting a chance to lock up a possible superstar for a long time. There are no certainties in baseball, but it looks like this was a trade well worth making for both squads, and there are a lot of reasons for Cardinals fans to be enthusiastic about it.
Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, Wacha, Martinez. Garcia to fill in if healthy, Gonzales next.
Carpenter, Heyward, Holliday, Adams, Peralta, Molina, Jay, Wong.
Key Bullpen pieces:
Rosenthal, Walden, Maness, Gonzales, Freeman, Choate?
Key Bench pieces:
Grichuk, Anna, Scruggs, Bourjos
Check back soon for a more detailed analysis of the trade and how it will change things for the Cardinals going forward.