It was April 5th, 2010. Opening day at Turner Field. A day that is celebrated each year, and approached with cautious optimism by all in Braves Country. This day however, produced one of the most esteemed moments in recent history, and a defining moment in the career of a home-grown player, that would serve, unfortunately, to also create expectations similar to that of Jeff Francoeur.
Now on to the present day, and Jason Heyward is officially a St. Louis Cardinal. That opening day homer is something no true Braves fan will ever forget, and we certainly lost a high-quality player today that will be sorely missed over the short and long-term of the franchise. But I now ask all of you to remain calm, and focus on the future of the team with this move and all others that are sure to come over the continuing off-season.
Atlanta fans by nature can be a very excitable and reactionary bunch, and this news definitely didn’t sway that notion at all, as any current social media feed will show you. There aren’t many of you who are “comfortable” with this move, to put it nicely. But are our memories also that short that we have forgotten the clamoring from the masses that everyone in the front office needed to be fired, and that the roster needed a complete overhaul just a couple of months ago? This is what we all wanted. It may not feel the way you thought it would, and you may not have gotten Felix Hernandez in return for your cherished hometown hero, but change was gonna come, and we should all embrace it whole-heartedly. You may lose some of your favorite players on the current roster, but it’s quite obvious that the last few versions of this team have not clicked, and an overhaul is needed to change the entire mindset of this team for the better.
So what do we get and what do we lose in this deal and all the others from the offseason so far? Well starting with this trade, I don’t need to bore you with the defensive statistics of J-Hey for you all to know that the 2015 roster will have big shoes to fill in the right field corner. Two Gold Gloves in the past three years should cover that point sufficiently as well. But we need to be honest with our selves as well, in that Heyward hadn’t been living up to the hype thus far on offense. Per Dave O’Brien of the AJC:
“Heyward hit .271 with a .351 OBP and 20 stolen bases in 2014, while posting career lows in home runs (11) and slugging percentage (.384). He has a .262 average and .351 OBP with 84 homers, 63 stolen bases and 292 RBIs in five seasons, including career-highs of 27 homers and 82 RBIs in 2012.”
While those stats certainly aren’t the most troublesome on the team last season, the bigger problem stemmed mostly from Heyward’s contract issues. While the Braves most recently signed Heyward to a 2-year deal, the front office still had concerns about what Heyward would be looking for in a long-term deal, and most recently had come to the conclusion that he would probably end up testing the free-agent market. Not a good situation for the Braves, despite their most recent Wren-induced spending spree’s, and we all know that. Would you rather be grateful for the time he spent here, and celebrate the great moments he gave us during his tenure, while still getting something in return for him? Or would you prefer to lambasted the front office in another year or so for not reaching a long-term deal, and watching your hero walk away with a fat stack of cash from another team, and the Braves with nothing left to show for it…
Instead, in return we get a top-half of the rotation starter, who was once in the conversation with the likes of Jose Fernandez mind you, and certainly has the potential to return to that same form if not better. “But Heyward was only 25, he could have continued to grow offensively…” 100% accurate statement, but let’s also apply that logic to Shelby Miller who is only 24 years of age, and joins a rotation of players who are mostly that same age or younger, specifically on the top half. Furthermore, we’re getting a quality starting pitcher who’s 26-18, including 10+ wins over the last two seasons, with a 3.33 ERA, 1.230 WHIP, 7.6 SO per 9, and 2.33 SO/W ratio. Not too shabby if you ask me. The Braves have always been, and will always be built around a solid pitching staff and rotation, and this new “old-school” front office is making the moves they feel will help to solidify a rotation that has a lot of question marks around it currently, with two of the previously assumed top-half starters both returning from their second major elbow surgery.
Other players involved in this trade aren’t causing the outrage from the fan base, but are certainly still worth mentioning. From the Braves side Jordan Walden was also included, who was one of the most reliable set-up men for the team this past season, but he certainly isn’t irreplaceable. Shae Simmons looks as though he could soon be the second coming of Craig Kimbrel, and David Carpenter has been exceptional in the set-up role for the most part as well. Assuming that Avilan and Varvaro can both regroup and resolve some of the issues they faced this past season, I have no problem with those five being the core group for the bullpen this coming season. Also included, was RHP Tyrell Jenkins, a 1st round pick in the 2010 draft and who was considered to be one of the Cardinals top prospects coming out of the 2012 season, but has had his fair share of struggles thus far in Triple-A. Nonetheless, Jenkins will provide the additional pitching depth to the Braves farm system, which Hart has expressed concerns over recently.
While we’re on that subject, let’s touch on the two other notable moves made by Hart and the team thus far. First, Kyle Wren was traded for a minor league pitcher as well, again helping add to the depth Hart feels is needed, and to also answer the “elephant in the room” questions of what would happen to Kyle, after his father was fired from the Atlanta organization. While he certainly had his fair share of potential in CF, he didn’t appear likely to be ready for the majors anytime soon.
Also of note, Tommy Lastella was shipped off to the Cubs, in return for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino. Once again adding to the pitching depth, but also providing a major benefit to the organization that many of the armchair GM’s haven’t taken note of. Before I get to that point, the loss of LaStella is not a significant one long-term, as they still have Phil Gosselin as a serviceable option, Jose Peraza is certainly the second baseman of the Braves future, and the return of another power-arm out of the bullpen is much more significant in the Hart game plan. Now back to the larger benefit of this deal.
With the Braves having plans of being more aggressive in the international marketplace, the trade with the Cubs nets them an additional $830,000 in cap/spending room for international free agents. Remember when they brought on Gordon Blakely and a couple other key members of the new front office staff? Well those gentlemen all have extensive experience in scouting, domestically and internationally. And the international piece is a key focus for Hart moving forward. Considering the talent that has hit the MLB recently from the international marketplace, that’s an incredibly wise decision too. Can you imagine the excitement from Braves country if the organization was able to sign someone out of the international market with the potential of the likes of Jose Abreu, Javier Baez, or Yasiel Puig?
Enter Yoan Moncada. With the aforementioned efforts to strengthen our presence and signing abilities in the international marketplace, we are already starting to see rumors of major players being targeted by the Braves, and Moncada looks as though he could be #1 on their list. Not to mention a possible Cuban second coming of…dare I say Chipper Jones? Per Ian Morris of SB Nation/Talking Chop:
“Moncada is a switch-hitter who’s listed at six feet tall and 210 pounds. Moncada’s listed as an infielder, and would seem to best fit at third base, second base, or in the outfield. He reportedly has a 70-grade arm and plus speed to boot. Although he plays primarily second base for Cienfuegos in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, considering his skill set and size, he could be a better fit at third base.”
While the financial details are still very complicated, essentially due to a lot of regulations I honestly don’t understand, or really care to read about for hours to interpret, this is by no means anywhere close to being a done deal. The Braves scouts have been attending scouting events centered around Moncada, and he was also recently cleared to play and sign as a FA by the MLB. All of which should have Braves Country’s attention.
So while we may have lost a revered local hero, as a fan base we should focus on whats to come. Be grateful that we got to see him become one of our favorite players of this latest generation, and to proudly represent our city and team. As I mentioned before, we asked for this, and now we’re getting it. If these last few weeks have been a sign of things to come, I highly doubt this will be the last big name that is shipped off or brought in this offseason. We all need to be patient and wait to see where the chips may fall, as Hart and his team strive to get us away from Frank Wren’s unfortunate mistakes, at almost any cost necessary. In the words of another set of local ATLien hero’s…