This second edition of Offseason Musings was slated to be about some of the many trade rumors that have cropped up since the season ended a couple of weeks ago. However, a major trade required a change of plans. The Cardinals and Braves swapped four players in a deal that makes perfect sense from a baseball standpoint but has only minor implications for Fantasy purposes. The Braves shipped OF Jason Heyward and RP Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for SP Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins.
Miller is a power pitcher with a plus fastball that he struggles to command at times. His secondary offering is a curveball that worked quite well as a strikeout pitch in his breakout rookie campaign, but he lost the feel for it early in the 2014 season and had a tough season as a result. He lacks any sort of effective third pitch, though he’s tinkered with a changeup and a two-seamer with mixed results, never sticking with either pitch long enough to make a difference. So, essentially he’s a one pitch wonder at this point, but at 24 years old, he’s far from washed up and makes for a great reclamation project for pitching coach Roger McDowell.
McDowell has some great successes on his resume, in particular, he made a winner out of Aaron Harang in 2014 and he helped Ervin Santana recapture some of the magic that faded away in his final year with the Angels and lone season with the Royals. If McDowell can help Miller regain his feel for the curveball and perhaps help him develop an effective third pitch, then there is certainly some promise of regaining the dominance he showed in 2013. A quick look over Miller’s stats show significant drops in Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%) and Swings outside the hitting zone (O-Swing), which indicates fewer swings and misses on both strikes and non-strikes, particularly on his curveball. He also experienced a significant drop in strikeouts and an increase in walks due to his command issues with the fastball. In other words, McDowell will have his work cut out for him.
The change in home park is a slight negative for Miller, who is moving from the more spacious Busch Stadium to the more favorable home run environment of the Braves’ Turner Field. As a fly ball pitcher, he may see an uptick in HRs allowed, however, it may not make that much of a difference in his overall HR rates. There is also an issue with OF defense, as the Braves are losing one of the best defensive outfielders in Hayward and ostensibly replacing him with Evan Gattis, who represents a significant downgrade for a fly ball pitcher. In terms of Fantasy production, Miller in 2014 was a far cry from the dominant pitcher he was in 2013. As we look ahead to next season, there is certainly a chance he can regain some of that dominance, but that will rest upon his development of those secondary offerings. In drafts next spring, Miller will be more of a late round flier than anything else with the upside to be a SP2 or even an ace if McDowell has some success in turning him around.
The other pitcher the Braves acquired in the deal is yet another reclamation project for the organization, with the difference being that Tyrell Jenkins is working his way back after shoulder surgery and has yet to throw in the major leagues. Jenkins is a hard thrower who consistently works in the 93 mph range with easy and smooth mechanics. He projects as a future starting pitcher but is still quite raw and has a long way to go in his comeback from shoulder surgery. Command was an issue prior to the surgery and remains so today. He’ll probably start in the Braves’ High-A affiliate in 2015 but could work his way to Double-A before the season ends. Either way, he won’t make an impact in Fantasy next season but should be on the radar for dynasty owners looking ahead to 2016.
From a Fantasy perspective, Heyward has been a disappointment mainly because he set the bar high with his breakout 2012 season but has failed to live up to that standard ever since. However, if we look at 2012 as a power outlier and compare the rest of his career numbers, he’s still an elite level player with fairly consistent production across the board. Ultimately, that’s the sort of player the Cardinals are banking on getting, and Heyward couldn’t be moving to a better overall environment as a player. As a top of the order hitter, Heyward’s counting stats were victimized a bit by the conservative style of Manager Fredi Gonzalez in the running game and the lack of punch below him in the batting order. Indeed, the Braves were just a cut above the lowly San Diego Padres in run production this past season at 3.54 runs per game. Heyward got on base often with a solid .351 OBP, but the lack of support in the heart of the Braves’ batting order left him stranded more often than not, resulting in just 74 runs scored, despite him playing a career second-best 149 games and making 649 plate appearances.
The Cardinals had their own problems with run production in 2014, mainly due to their league low 105 HRs, yet they still produced 3.82 runs per game. The addition of Heyward atop their lineup along with Matt Carpenter, regardless of where each hits, will give the Cardinals an elite pair of table setters for their middle order hitters to drive in. Heyward should get a bump in runs scored next season, and manager Mike Matheny will almost certainly capitalize on his speed, a luxury the Cards have not had much of in recent years. We may never see 20-plus home runs from Heyward while playing half his games in Busch Stadium, but he’ll still hit double-digit HRs if he can stay healthy. Overall, this is a somewhat lateral move for Heyward’s Fantasy value, though, the potential for more run production and a more aggressive base running attack could bump his value somewhat on draft day. He’ll still be a Top -25 outfielder, likely picked somewhere in the low middle rounds.
Walden is a prototype power armed reliever, who regularly throws around 95 mph and can reach 97 mph when he rears back for a little extra. He also throws a nasty slider and a show-me changeup, but neither of those pitches achieve the kind of swing and miss rates of his fastball. However, like many pitchers of his ilk, Walden often has difficulty with command and control, which sometimes results in more walks than one typically likes to see. His overall Fantasy value actually gets a bit of an uptick with the move to the Cardinals because their bullpen is likely to thin through free agency. Both Pat Neshek and Jason Motte are expected to move elsewhere during the offseason, which would put Walden in line for the closer role if current closer Trevor Rosenthal struggles (again) or gets injured for any period of time. Walden has some closing experience; he notched 32 saves for the Angels back in 2011. That is likely why the Cardinals brought him aboard, especially given Rosenthal’s struggles this past season. Rosenthal is certain to start the season as the Cardinals closer but Walden will be the most likely choice for second in line for saves unless other candidate pitchers are signed. That makes Walden a good late round flier, or at the very least, a pitcher to monitor right from the start of the season as the possible replacement for Rosenthal.