ST. LOUIS — In their first major move of the offseason, the Cardinals sent Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins to the Atlanta Braves for right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden.
Heyward, 25, is a career .262 hitter with power, hitting 84 homers in 681 games. In 2014, he slashed .271/.351/.384 with 58 RBIs while splitting time between batting leadoff and batting fifth.
His acquisition addressed the club’s vacancy in right field following the passing of rookie Oscar Taveras. Randal Grichuk, another rookie, showed flashes of promise at the position last season, but with the offense leaking power and the infield relatively set for 2015, right field was the best opportunity to improve the bats for 2015.
The young outfielder is signed through next season for $8.3 million and will be eligible for free agency in 2016, making him a relatively cheap improvement for the Cardinal lineup.
Heyward also brings strong defense in the corner, sporting two gold gloves and committing only 18 errors in 1,415 chances. He also has 33 assists.
His offensive weak spot is one the Cardinals know well. The lefty had a sub-.200 average against left-handers in 2014 and just .221 for his career. The Cardinals improved their average against lefties last season, at .254 from .238 in 2013.
Thank you to the Cardinals and their Fans for some great seasons and memories. Best of luck to the guys and the organization!— Shelby C Miller (@ShelbyMiller19) November 17, 2014
Miller, who struggled in the first half last year, appeared to figure out his mechanics in the latter part of the year, dropping opponents’ batting average to .201 in his final 12 starts and striking out nearly three batters to every one he walked. He also brought his ERA down to 2.92 in the second half compared to 4.29 through his first 19 starts.
It was enough to earn him a rotation spot for the playoffs, where he made two starts with mixed results. Though he pitched 5.2 innings against the Dodgers with only two runs on five hits, he gave up six hits and three runs to the Giants in the NLCS without closing out four innings.
Miller finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, winning 15 games and closing the year with a 3.06 ERA. His 2014 numbers all trended the wrong way, finishing with higher totals in hits, runs, walks home runs ERA and WHIP. For his career he is 26-18.
His absence creates an opening in the rotation, with Carlos Martinez the likely candidate to fill the spot. GM John Mozeliak said the hard-throwing righty would prepare as a starter heading into 2015, and his seven starts last season would make him the logical choice.
The two lesser-known pieces in the trade are Walden and Jenkins. Jenkins is a 22-year-old starter in high A, pitching 74 innings for Palm Beach last season and posting a 6-5 record. He did have a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League this year, going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and striking out 18 while walking 10 in six starts.
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Though he was taken in the first round (50th) of the 2010 draft, Jenkins is a raw talent. In his 58 games, he has not played beyond high A, and would project to take a few years before becoming a viable major league candidate.
Walden is a 27-year-old reliever who played his first three years for the Los Angeles Angels before joining the Braves in 2013. His first full season (2011) saw him take a trip to the All Star Game and finish seventh in Rookie of the Year voting. For his career, he has allowed only 27 percent of inherited runners to score.