A little over two months ago, I wrote a post titled "Have the Cardinals already lost the Jason Heyward trade?" As somebody utterly incapable of gathering what people enjoy, I was pretty surprised that it got the attention it did: to date, 137 Facebook shares and 78 comments that I'm sure are wonderful but that, as somebody who hopes to write things from time to time going forward, I will never read. I rode the fence a bit but ultimately suggested that while it was too early to draw an absolute conclusion on the trade, it didn't look good for the Cardinals.
At the time, Shelby Miller had a sub-2 ERA and Jason Heyward was barely replacement level and the back end of the Cardinals rotation looked shaky and the Cardinals appeared to have a surplus of outfielders and all of these silly, childish notions we had when we were so young and innocent. I wrote in May that "it's nearly impossible to imagine more factors working against the Cardinals with this trade to this point in the season." And in the last two months, just about everything has flipped. The Cardinals rotation, even without Wainwright, has been remarkable. Four starters--John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha--have either been all-stars, in the case of the latter two, or pitched like viable all-star candidates, like the former two. And although injuries have hamstrung (atrocious pun intended) the rotation, the team's fifth-starter-by-committee has been reasonably effective. Jaime Garcia was very sharp in his seven starters in 2015, yielding a sub-2 ERA and a sub-3 FIP and xFIP. In his six starts, Tim Cooney has a 3.16 ERA and a 3.51 FIP, which are remarkable numbers considering that he is for all intents and purposes the organization's eighth or ninth ranked starter.
Would the Cardinals rotation be better in 2015 with Shelby Miller? Sure. Even after some inevitable "regression" (did people refer to it as regression in 1999, when Mark McGwire only hit 65 home runs? Probably?), Miller has a 2.33 ERA and 3.15 FIP. But it's fair to examine a few other factors in conjunction with just his raw production. At the moment, the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball. They have a six game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the second-best record in the National League. As good as the Pirates are, the Cardinals currently have a 91.4% chance of winning the NL Central, a 99.7% chance of making at least the Wild Card game, and a 95.7% chance of making the National League Division Series, per Baseball Prospectus. And once the playoffs start, your (at the moment) fifth starter isn't a significant factor--he can be used out of the bullpen (no comment), but the rotation becomes a four-man rotation instantly. At that point, the question no longer becomes if you'd rather start Shelby Miller over Tim Cooney, which you undoubtedly would--it becomes whether you'd rather start Shelby Miller than Lackey, Lynn, Martinez, or Wacha (not to mention Garcia, if healthy). Maybe you would, but it certainly becomes much more of a non-rhetorical question.
But it would be unfair to look at the Cardinals' likely playoff berth as completely independent of the trade. Because although the Cardinals would likely lead the NL Central regardless, the production of Jason Heyward has helped make it feel so inevitable (if the Cardinals collapse and don't make the playoffs, I'm truly at the mercy of those who know where I live to keep their big mouths shut). Although he started off very slowly, garnering 0.2 fWAR as of the date of my initial post, in the two months since, his total has jumped to 2.6 fWAR, even higher than Shelby Miller's total. The hallmark of the Cardinals has been consistency rather than a few remarkable individual performances, and because of that, I get the unquantifiable sense that Heyward's resurgence has gone somewhat under the radar. Like, Jason Heyward was a viable all-star candidate this year. Had he started off strong and then had his replacement level days in June, he may very well have snuck in, like Matt Carpenter almost did. Heyward's offense has been a tick better than it was in 2014 in Atlanta and it wouldn't be out of the question for this to be his best offensive season since 2010. And unlike in May, when there seemed to be an outfield surplus, Heyward's stability has been a necessity. Randal Grichuk was hurt; Matt Holliday was hurt; Jon Jay is hurt (and was largely ineffective when he was whatever level of healthy he was before winding up on the DL); Peter Bourjos has hit better than in 2014 but he still doesn't have a bat that anyone is dying to see. The Cardinals started Mark Reynolds in left field at one point this year--a stable outfield presence is a very, very good thing. And now, it appears that a new Cardinals starting outfield is solidifying for the remainder of 2015, at least: A healthy Matt Holliday in left, a who-cares-if-he-regresses-he's-basically-been-all-world-to-this-point Randal Grichuk in center, and Heyward in right. That's a good outfield. That's an outfield I could see winning the World Series.
I was a bit more wishy-washy on it two months ago, but I can now say without hesitation that I would rather have Jason Heyward for the rest of 2015 than Shelby Miller.
The above sentence does not mean that the Cardinals won the Jason Heyward trade, mind you. It just means that it's too early to tell. Consider, for instance, what is probably the median outcome for this season: the Cardinals win the NL Central, maybe win a series or two in the playoffs, but don't win the World Series. Was the trade worth it? Well, it depends on Shelby Miller in 2016 and beyond. I'm not a World Series-or-bust kind of guy: If Heyward's presence wins the Cardinals some games that don't lead to a 12th World Series banner at Busch Stadium, that's not nothing to me. But if Shelby Miller is a Cy Young candidate in his cost-controlled years, it would be hard to not regret that as a Cardinals fan. The above hypotheticals, of course, are pointless, because we don't know what is going to happen. We don't know what will happen in the next three months to add to or diminish from the legacy of Jason Heyward, St. Louis Cardinal. And while it is entirely possible that the Cardinals will lose the Jason Heyward trade when all is said and done, the Cardinals have not already lost the Jason Heyward trade.