Ed. note: Click here to see Rob’s recaps of the other major trades from the Great Teardown.
The first big trade that Coppy made was trading Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Like Justin Upton, Heyward was one year away from free agency, and with seemingly no hope of re-signing him, they decided to get something significant for him instead of leaving for free agency. By this point, it was not publicly declared (and perhaps not even internally decided) that they were in the midst of a rebuild, so receiving back a major league piece like Shelby seemed to be important.
Who We Gave Up:
Jason Heyward – Bad Henry County. The next Braves Hall of Famer. The next Hank Aaron? A true 5-tool player who could perform each of them at an elite level. He dumped the first fastball he ever saw into the Braves’ bullpen in 2010. The expectations were enormous. He should have had the bat of Fred McGriff, the defense of Andruw Jones, the arm of Jeff Francoeur, and the leadership of Chipper Jones if you talked to enough Braves fans. But instead of being a cornerstone player for the next 15 years, J-Hey was simply… an excellent major league baseball player. He was an All-Star, finished second in the RoY, has now won 3 Gold Gloves, and sabermetricians think he is one of the most valuable players in baseball. As it stood, he had a .781 OPS, stole bases at a 75% clip, and played perhaps the best right field defense in the game. He was mostly durable aside from some hamstring issues and a very unfortunate pitch to the face in 2013.
In his lone season in St. Louis, he had one of his best seasons since his rookie season. He managed his highest stolen base total (and success rate), he hit .293/.359/.439, and won another Gold Glove. St. Louis, perhaps, hoped that he would sign his inevitable long-term mega deal with them, but he went to their rival, the Chicago Cubs. But after signing up with the Cubbies for 8 years in exchange for $184,000,000 in payment, his first season at Wrigley was a very forgettable one. He turned in his worst OPS of his career (.631), played his fewest games since his injury-marred 2013 season, and didn’t steal nearly as many bags as he had previously. It got so bad, in fact, that he was benched multiple times during the Cubs’ World Series run.
He’s perhaps the most enigmatic player to play for the Braves. Do you really pay $22M a season for a guy who is not a transcendent offensive power? But at the end of the day, a penny saved is a penny earned, and advanced defensive metrics say that he saves significantly more runs over an average right fielder than he “loses” at the plate over an elite offensive player. To many, the balance tips to his side, and the value is there.
Jordan Walden – Classic Atlanta with this one. We picked him up by trading the late Tommy Hanson in 2012. For a total of $2M, he provided two solid relief seasons for Atlanta. For St. Louis, he pitched 10 1/3 innings in two seasons due to injuries. The Braves signed him last week to a minor league deal with an invite for Spring Training.
Who We Got Back:
Shelby Miller – Shelby, we hardly knew ye. Shelby clearly was the centerpiece of the deal, and like his counterpart in this deal, he played one season for his new team. He didn’t produce the WAR that Heyward did (6.5 to 3.6 WAR, with much of that gap due to Heyward’s controversial defensive contribution), but he turned in a valuable season for the rebuilding Braves. He led the league in starts, pitched 205 1/3 innings, produced a 3.02 ERA, and made the All-Star team as the Braves’ lone representative.
But where the story changes is what the Braves did with Miller next. While Heyward left for the Cubs in free agency, the Braves traded the big Texan to Arizona for Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and Aaron Blair. Considered at the time to be one of the biggest heists of the decade, the progression of value certainly is to be taken into consideration for what the Braves received with Shelby Miller.
Tyrell Jenkins – Another big fella from Texas, Tyrell was originally committed to Baylor to play quarterback. He’s a high-ceiling-low-floor prospect who possesses a 94 MPH fastball, average breaking ball and change, and struggles to match his secondary stats with his otherwise strong ERAs. He struggles to consistently throw strikes (3.5 BB/9 in his ML career), doesn’t strike out enough guys (6.5 K/9), and that came to a head in his time in Atlanta in 2016. His inability to master those things in the minors led to an alarming walk rate (5.7 BB/9), a simply unacceptable K/9 (4.5), and that led to a 5.88 ERA in 14 games. The Braves at a couple different points have said that his future may be as a reliever, and the jury is still out over where he slides into Atlanta’s plans long-term. He has been rated as highly at #6 on some prospect charts as the Braves have continued to tinker with their farm system.
If the trade evaluation ended at the end of 2015, then you’d say that the Braves traded a cornerstone player for a very good right-handed starting pitcher. That may not sound particularly appetizing. But with Heyward now in such an enormous contract, Shelby sold for a king’s ransom, Jenkins still having potential, and Walden back in Atlanta, you’d have to conclude that the Braves sold at a great time on Heyward and maximized his value.