ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals, for so long focused on long-term sustainability, made a major short-term move Monday, dealing two young pitchers in starter Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden.
The organization has impressive pitching depth, and when Atlanta identified young arms as a point of focus, Mozeliak used the opportunity to improve the uncertain right field position. Miller is the second young pitcher to depart in a trade, the first being Joe Kelly who was shipped to Boston at the deadline for John Lackey.
The move indicates both how confident the Cardinals are in their young arms, and the perceived need to find an impact player heading into 2015. Even Mike Matheny, who was tasked with juggling a rotation riddled with injury and inconsistency in 2014, was reportedly behind the move.
“When you look at the depth of pitching that we have for this rotation, he felt like giving up somebody like Shelby was something we could survive,” Mozeliak said of his manager, who was excited about the bump Heyward’s bat could give the Cardinal lineup.
Miller’s departure leaves a hole in the starting five, and Mozeliak identified Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez as candidates to fill the spot internally.
“I think prior to this deal we had talked about the opportunity for those guys to come in and compete for that fifth spot, but now with Shelby being traded, it certainly gives them a shot at being one of our starters,” the GM said.
In order for Martinez to be a starting option, the Cardinals needed to address the possible vacancy in the bullpen. That’s where Walden came in. With Pat Neshek likely searching for a major deal in the wake of his stellar 2014 season, the Cardinals would potentially be absent two strong performers in the back end of games.
Mozeliak identified Walden as a late-game reliever, calling his acquisition “critical” to getting the deal with Atlanta done. While the GM said this move does not close the book on negotiations with Neshek, he said it allowed the club the ability to rethink the bullpen. With several young relievers already in place, the acquisition of Walden makes retaining the All Star setup man less critical.
Conspicuously absent from list of rotation candidates was Jaime Garcia. The 28-year-old lefty is still recovering from thoracic outlet surgery, and comes into 2015 an unknown quantity. Mozeliak did not have any updates on Garcia’s progress and it seems clear the club isn’t factoring him into next season’s plans in a significant way.
Mozeliak said the Cardinals will remain “opportunistic” when looking for bullpen assets as the offseason progresses, but did add the recent acquisitions mean some Redbird free agents may be let go without offers.
“I think given what we’ve been able to do and some things we are seeing now, there could be a couple non-tenders,” he said.