Jason Heyward, Shelby Miller and the 5 stages of grief




Confusion and bargaining.

Anger again.


These are the emotions that crossed my mind after being alerted to the fact that the Atlanta Braves had elected to trade Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. As you may know, there are “five stages of grief” that one goes through after in times of loss, and the first four stages can be checked off in a limited amount of time.

Jason Heyward was seen as a legitimate trade target in advance of the 2015 season, and with good reason. The common belief was that the now 25-year-old outfielder would be shopped in advance of his pending free agency (with his contract expiring after 2015), and when that is the case for any player, every option is on the table. At the same time, however, Heyward was the best player on the 2014 edition of the Atlanta Braves, leading the team in fWAR (5.1) and bWAR (6.3) while earning a Gold Glove as easily the best defensive right fielder in Major League Baseball.

Should John Hart and the “brain trust” of the Atlanta Braves taken calls on Heyward, or even actively shopped him? Absolutely. It is silly to suggest that the team simply should have crossed their fingers and hoped that Jason Heyward would accept a “hometown” discount after the 2015 campaign, but in the same breath, the return that Hart and company produced in exchange for Heyward’s services (with Jordan Walden also in the package) is simply not acceptable.

The centerpiece of the haul is right-hander Shelby Miller, who was seen as a top-25 prospect by virtually every market before making his MLB debut late in 2012 with a full, rookie campaign in 2013. As a rookie, Miller was very, very good, posting a 3.06 ERA over 173.1 innings with nearly a strikeout per inning (8.78 K/9) and a solid walk rate (2.96 BB/9). However, the wheels fell off a bit in 2014, and that is disheartening.

Miller was among the worst full-time starters in the National League in terms of FIP (fielding-independent pitching), producing a 4.54 in the category, and even with some highly fortunate luck, his 3.74 ERA over 183 innings was solid but unspectacular. Perhaps the more troubling revelation, however, was the decline in Miller’s strikeout rate, as the number plummeted to just 6.25 per 9 innings. This is not what you want to see from the “prize” of a trade like this, and while Miller’s upside is still reasonably high, you would expect to get a player with “star” ceiling in exchange for Heyward and/or a highly proven commodity, and Shelby Miller is neither at this stage.

In terms of the rest of the deal, Jordan Walden was a player that was very likely to be moved, and there are no qualms with his inclusion overall. However, Walden would have been better suited to net a return on his own accord, and a pitcher with his upside (10.80 career K/9 with a 3.10 ERA) could be a prime closer candidate in St. Louis or elsewhere.

The final piece of the deal is right-handed prospect Tyrell Jenkins, who could piece the puzzle together as far as John Hart’s thinking. Prior to the 2013 season when he turned in an ugly ERA in the minor leagues, the now 22-year-old was considered to be a top-100 prospect, and as an athlete, Jenkins appears to be elite-level. However, he has not shown great development as a pure pitcher, and even with reasonable upside, he is certainly less valuable than Jordan Walden in the short term and will need to mature greatly to be a big league contributor at any point.

Jason Heyward is better than Shelby Miller. That much is not up for debate. The argument of long-term value is the only leg that John Hart has to stand on, but that assumes that Atlanta has a real “stud” in Miller, which is a theory that is difficult to subscribe to given his 2014 performance. If the Atlanta Braves truly believed that Heyward was as good as gone, trading him was the correct move, but it is nearly impossible to believe that this is the best return imaginable for one of the best outfielders in baseball, and trading him to the St. Louis Cardinals adds to the knife twisting.

John Hart chose the future, and that is okay, but Jason Heyward was worthy of more.

Maybe I’ll reach the fifth stage of acceptance at some point, but that day is not today.