ST. LOUIS -- Cardinal General Manager John Mozeliak entered the offseason with a different type of plan. Rather than focusing on young player control and projected financial certainty, the GM’s focus was on 2015.
Monday’s four-player trade was the clearest indication Mozeliak is focusing on the now.
The Cardinals moved 24-year-old pitcher Shelby Miller, who is not arbitration eligible until 2016, and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for Jason Heyward in the final year of the outfielder’s contract ($8.3 million in 2015) and reliever Jordan Walden.
“We did feel after the events of this offseason we had to do something different. That we had to look at a way to add an impact player to our club,” Mozeliak said in a press conference following the trade announcement. “This deal is definitely focused on the short term in 2015 but as we go forward we’ll try to find a way to make Heyward’s experience here in St. Louis something that he wants to be a part of for a long period of time.”
At the GM meetings, the Cardinals and Braves found aligning interests. Atlanta needed young pitching, and St. Louis was seeking an impact player to stabilize the uncertainty in right field. The deal was wrapped up Sunday night and officially by Monday morning.
Heyward, 25, said he was unsurprised the Braves opted to trade him, as he would likely command an impressive salary were he to reach free agency.
“With a player -whoever it is in this situation- with their contract being up a year from now, I’m not surprised at all by the possibility that a team would look to trade if they don't feel like they're going to get something done long term,” he said via conference call.
The two-time Gold Glove winner added he wasn’t necessarily set on free agency, but talks with Atlanta about an extended tenure never went beyond a couple short chats in 2012.
His installment in right means Randal Grichuk will be a supporting player in 2015, and prospect Stephen Piscotty will have limited opportunities to see MLB action. Mozeliak said the organization still has high hopes for both players, but right field was the easiest place to insert an impact player, especially following the death of Oscar Taveras.
“It changed it drastically,” Mozeliak said of the team’s plan for the position. “We were all in agreement we were going to give Oscar a lot of opportunity in right field next year.”
The 22-year-old’s death hit the organization brutally hard, and Mozeliak was forced to reimagine the future much sooner than he planned.
“I don’t want to forget about Oscar, and I don’t want it to be something where we lose sight of what could have been,” he said in a measured tone. “But reality is we have to move on. We’re going to play next year and the game of baseball is always moving. It doesn’t stop for anyone, so that’s how we have to approach it. Sometimes you feel like it’s a little cold or a little harsh, but in the end we have to do what’s best for the organization.”
Heyward is a strong fit, and he spoke freely about his eagerness to join the organization.
“The Cardinals are one of the best organizations in the game of baseball, bottom line in my mind,” he said. “The fact that the St. Louis Cardinals had an interest in me, and would like me to come be a part of their organization and play baseball for that great fan base, it's something I was excited to hear.”
Though Monday was a major part of the offseason plans for the Cards, Mozeliak said the team isn’t necessarily done maneuvering. Saying the club will remain “opportunistic,” the GM noted the remaining need for a right-handed bat that could potentially play outfield and first base, and the possibility of tracking down more bullpen help before the offseason wrapped up.
He did say the recent moves have changed his initial plan of tendering offers to all potential free agents, explaining he now imagined there would be a couple non tenders.