Heyward Trade The Latest In Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak’s String Of Brilliant Deals
St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did what he does best on Monday. By acquiring right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden from the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, Mozeliak directly filled one dire need while indirectly addressing several others at the same time. The trade may have cost the Cardinals some young pitching talent, but it will likely result in the team making fewer moves and taking on fewer risks to build a championship-caliber team for 2015.
With the tragic death of top prospect Oscar Taveras, the need to improve in right field became an external affair. Enter Heyward, a 25-year-old defensive wizard who has shown flairs of brilliance at the plate. All things considered, Heyward should fit well into the Cardinals outfield in a position where the team struggled most last season – Cardinals right fielders hit a combined .237/.283/.326, well below average in all three categories. Heyward’s career batting line of .261/.351/.429 isn’t spectacular, but he has the potential to hit around .280, draw a good amount of walks, while also knocking 20-25 out of the ballpark. Defensively, Heyward brings Gold Glove-quality defense and a cannon for an arm into the St. Louis outfield, and should team up with Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos to create one of the best late-game defensive outfields in baseball.
But that’s not all. The addition of Heyward also gives manager Mike Matheny more flexibility when creating his lineup card, as his new right fielder can fit in just about anywhere in the top half of the order. The Cardinals had openly discussed moving Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot to ignite a reeling offense, and the Heyward acquisition gives Matheny the right tools to alter his lineup with more confidence.
Most importantly, in my opinion at least, Heyward provides a bridge for Grichuk and rising prospect Stephen Piscotty to continue developing into full-time, everyday players. Piscotty has flown through the Cardinals minor league system, and while still raw, team management believes that he has the potential to be a solid hitter in the majors. Adding Heyward and the one year he has left until he becomes a free agent gives the Cardinals an impact player for 2015 that also allows Piscotty to realize his potential in the minor leagues. The Cardinals were looking for a bridge to take them into the Piscotty/Grichuk era, and Heyward fit the bill perfectly.
The Cardinals also got one step closer to figuring out their starting pitching conundrum, which involved seven different players for five available spots in the rotation. Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and John Lackey have been locks since the final out of the season, but the fifth starter job was up in the air between Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Marco Gonzalez. Trading Miller frees up that fifth spot most likely for Martinez, who to his credit has patiently worked the last two seasons in the bullpen while the team figured out how to properly use him. Gonzalez can take another year in AAA to continue his development if the Cardinals want, or he can go the Martinez route and pitch out of the bullpen until he gets John Lackey’s spot following 2015.
In the bullpen, the void left by Martinez and free agent Pat Neshek will be filled by Jordan Walden, who features one of the nastiest sliders and strangest deliveries in all of baseball. In his two years setting up Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, Walden struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings while compiling FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching – a measure of a pitcher’s avoidance of walks, hit batters and home runs while causing strikeouts) statistics of under 3.00 – under the league average both years. The Cardinals may have to bring in another reliever from free agency, but they won’t have to worry about finding another setup man with the addition of Walden for the next two seasons.
The Heyward-Walden trade is just the latest in Mozeliak’s skillful history of major trades. Mozeliak traded hometown favorite David Freese for Bourjos and Grichuk, while freeing room for Carpenter to move to his natural third base position and allowing rookie Kolten Wong to assume the everyday second base role. At the trade deadline this past year, Mozeliak brought in Lackey in exchange for starter Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig to shore up the starting rotation and provide Taveras with what was supposed to be a clear path toward a long-time gig as the Cardinals starting right fielder.
Monday’s trade for Heyward again showed Mozeliak’s shrewd ability to deal wisely and fill multiple needs with one transaction. Whether the Cardinals choose to extend Heyward with a long-term contract is up to them, but even if Heyward stays in St. Louis for just one season, the value he can provide on the field as well as in how the Cardinals prepare for the future should make this deal well worth the cost.