Trade returns could have Braves sitting pretty
Loss of Heyward, J-Up will be felt, but gains strengthen club's future
ATLANTA -- The Braves have entered the new year confident that they have made the most of the opportunity to brighten their future by trading Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. But it remains to be seen how significantly these changes will impact the 2015 season.
While it might not have been easy to bid adieu to Heyward's Gold Glove Award-winning defense or Upton's offense, the Braves realized they likely would not be able to re-sign either corner outfielder as they both entered their walk year. At the same time, they needed to strengthen a weak farm system and address the starting-pitching depth, which was decimated when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy both underwent a second Tommy John surgery in March.
Thus, in an effort to fortify what stood as an uncertain road ahead, the Braves opted to sacrifice what Heyward and Upton provide in the present.
Here is a breakdown of what was lost and gained with these two significant trades.
The Heyward deal
Lost: While winning a pair of Gold Glove Awards over the past three seasons, Heyward has established himself as baseball's best defensive right fielder. At the same time, the homegrown hometown product endeared himself to Braves fans with a determined, blue-collar approach that further illuminated his great athleticism on the bases and in the field.
There is a chance Heyward will once again become the player who hit 27 homers, stole 21 bases and recorded an .814 OPS in 2012. But in posting 25 homers, 22 stolen bases and a .752 OPS over the 253 games in the past two years, the 25-year-old outfielder raises the question of whether he will be worth the $100 million-plus contract he will be seeking at the end of this season.
Gained: The Braves sent Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals in exchange for a potential ace in Shelby Miller and a high-upside starting pitching prospect in Tyrell Jenkins. Though he has battled inevitable inconsistencies through his first two full Major League seasons, Miller has fashioned a 3.36 ERA through 63 starts and gained valuable postseason experience. As the 24-year-old right-hander remains under contractual control for the next four seasons, he will have an opportunity to team with Julio Teheran and Alex Wood to create what could be a strong rotation. If Jenkins rebounds from his recent injury woes, he could be a part of this rotation within the next two seasons.
The Upton deal
Lost: Once the Braves did not find a suitable swap that included a Major League-ready starting pitcher like Miller, they opted to send Upton and Aaron Northcraft to the Padres in exchange for Jace Peterson, Max Fried, Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith. While this deal has definite future benefits, it also weakens the potential of a lineup that no longer includes Upton, who was one of just three players to compile an OPS of .825 or better and hit at least 55 home runs over the past two seasons. As a result, there is reason to wonder if Evan Gattis -- if he's not traded -- will be able to provide sufficient protection for Freddie Freeman.
Gained: Along with freeing up $14 million and creating the opportunity to widen their search for a starting pitcher, the Braves got three players who, like Jenkins, might rank among their top 10 prospects by the end of this season. If Fried makes progress after recovering from Tommy John surgery, he will likely surpass Lucas Sims as the club's top pitching prospect. Dustin Peterson could become Atlanta's starting third baseman within the next couple seasons and Smith, who is one of the fastest players in professional baseball, has the potential to develop into an everyday center fielder. Jace Peterson is the only member of this quartet acquired from San Diego who might make an immediate impact. The fleet-footed infielder will provide some versatility to Atlanta's bench and possibly handle the everyday second-base duties until top prospect Jose Peraza is deemed ready for the Majors.