Sunday, November 23, 2014

Heyward/Miller Trade Analysis

On Tuesday, November 17th the Cardinals and Braves made a major trade that had been in the works for weeks. The Cardinals were looking to boost their offense after it slipped from first to ninth in the NL in runs scored. The Braves were looking to upgrade their pitching staff with the anticipated departures of Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and his counterpart John Hart agreed to a trade that sent Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. With the recent death of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals felt they needed to make this move.

Heyward burst on the scene in 2010, and had a strong first half that led to an All Star appearance. He went on to finish second in the Rookie of the Year vote to Buster Posey. Many scouts thought Heyward had superstar potential, and was even compared to Hank Aaron at one point during his rookie year. Then Heyward had a sophomore slump in 2011, and his batting average dipped to .227.

In 2012, Heyward had a bounce back season, and hit a career high 27 home runs. He also won his first Gold Glove that season. While he had a nice season, Heyward was considered a strikeout prone player who struck out 152 times in 2012. During the 2013 season, the Braves moved Heyward to the leadoff spot to replace the struggling B.J. Upton. Heyward has since cut down on the strikeouts and improved his walk rate.

While Heyward may never be a superstar or future Hall of Famer, he has turned out to be a very good player. He is the best defensive right fielder in baseball. He is a high on base pct. guy. He has some speed, and stole over 20 bases twice in his career. Heyward hasn't turned out to be the power hitter he was projected to be, but Mozeliak feels like that could change in St. Louis, especially if he's not the leadoff hitter.

Along with Heyward, the Cardinals acquire reliever Jordan Walden. Walden originally came up in 2010 with the Angels, and made the All Star team the following season. He has spent the last two years in Atlanta setting up for Craig Kimbrel. Walden will fill the role of Pat Neshek, who most likely will depart in free agency.

Miller had finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. He had been one of baseball's top pitching prospects since being drafted in 2009. While Miller had a terrific rookie year, he was left off the playoff rotation in favor of fellow rookie Michael Wacha in 2013. Wacha went on to have a brilliant postseason, including beating Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS and winning the NLCS MVP.

Miller labored during many of his starts this year, and didn't pitch deep into games. The coaching staff seemed to sour on him. There was one instance during a Sunday night game that he got a stern talking to by manager Mike Matheny, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, and Yadier Molina on separate occasions. Some thought that Miller needed maturity, others thought he needed another pitch to compliment his fastball.

While Miller struggled during much of the season, he turned it on in September. He went 2-0 with a 1.48 ERA in five starts that month. In a reversal of last season, Miller was put on the playoff rotation over Wacha, who missed two months because of shoulder problems. Miller pitched 5.2 innings in a Game 4 win vs. the Dodgers, and was roughed up in another start in the NLCS vs. the Giants.

Despite Miller's inconsistency, he is 26-18 with a 3.33 ERA in his two plus years in the big leagues. Some say that he isn't going to be an ace, and is only a number three starter. Still, that has value. Just a few short years ago, the Cardinals had pitchers like Kip Wells and Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation. Cardinals fans would of been begging to have a starter as good as Miller back in those days. Good thing that the Cardinals have Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez to fall back on. Both pitchers are projected to be starters, and will compete for the fifth spot in spring training.

The Braves will be getting four years of Miller's services, and one more pre-arbitration season. It is possible that a change of scenery could be the best thing for Miller's career.  Atlanta has also received Tyrell Jenkins, who was in A-ball last year. Jenkins was drafted in 2010 at age 17, and was once one of the Cardinals top prospects. He had suffered from injuries and poor performance since. This season, Jenkins seemed to figure it out. He had been impressive in the Arizona Fall League. With Heyward up for free agency after 2015, the Cardinals have risked 10 years of team control for two promising pitchers.

I don't think the Cardinals made this move without the intention to attempt to sign Heyward long term. In the past, they have made similar moves with Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, and Matt Holliday. Given the recent record setting extension that Giancarlo Stanton got from the Marlins, the price will be high. The question is has Heyward reached his full potential yet. At age 25, Heyward could drive up the price too high if he has a monster season. As with the Holliday deal, I would expect that Mozeliak and Bill De Witt will try their best to work out an extension.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Oscar Taveras, Shooting Star

Cardinals 22 year old right fielder Oscar Taveras had just completed an up and down rookie campaign this year. Taveras had been a much heralded prospect who was compared to Albert Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero. Highlights of his 2014 season include a home run in his major league debut and a pinch hit home run during Game 2 of the NLCS. Taveras also had some difficulties during the past season, including some defensive lapses. Tragically, on October 26th, Taveras and his girlfiend Edilia Arvelos died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

Taveras’ death shocked his Cardinals organization and all of baseball. Taveras had been close to players like Carlos Martinez and Kolten Wong, who played with him in the minor leagues. He was also liked by veterans such as Jon Jay and Yadier Molina. Two players who played in the World Series had been close to Taveras. The Giants Juan Perez had tears in his eyes when he found out about his death during Game 5 of the World Series. Perez later entered the game, and hit a triple. The Royals Yordano Ventura put a tribute to Taveras on his hat, then went on to get the win in Game 6.

At a young age, Taveras wanted to become a big league star. His father, Francisco Taveras had played minor league ball in the Brewers organization. Oscar would tell his father, “I’m going to make you the happiest father in the world. I want to be a star. I want to be a major leaguer. I’m the phenomenon. I’m the best.” Taveras was known as “El Fenomeno” or the Phenomenon in his hometown of Porta Plata, Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately, Taveras never got a chance to realize his potential. A combination of a wet road and traveling too fast led to Taveras losing control of his 2014 Camaro, which ran off the road and hit a tree. Two young people lost their lives way before their time. Taveras also leaves behind a one year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras.

Taveras is the third active Cardinals player to die since 2002. Daryl Kile had died in his hotel room in Chicago during the 2002 season of a heart attack. Josh Hancock died in a drinking and driving accident during the 2007 season. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was the team’s catcher during the 2002 season, and along with then-manager Tony La Russa helped the team cope with the tragedy of losing a teammate. Matheny will be in a similar position during next season. Matheny, GM John Mozeliak, Molina, Martinez, and Matt Carpenter all traveled to Taveras’ hometown to attend his funeral on October 28th.

Cardinal fans will never know how good Taveras could have been. He was billed as the Cardinals best hitting prospect since Pujols, and compared to a left handed Vladimir Guerrero. Like Guerrero, Taveras was a good bad ball hitter, and had a rare ability to effectively hit pitches out of the strike zone. In 2011, Taveras hit .386 in A-ball. He followed up that season with another big year for Double A Springfield in 2012. Taveras hit .321, with 23 home runs, and 94 RBI’s during his 2012 campaign. If it wasn’t for a high ankle sprain that led to season ending surgery, Taveras would have of made his major league debut in 2013.

Taveras didn’t make the big club out of spring training this year, and was passed over promotion by Randal Grichuk early in the year. In his debut on May 31st against Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, Taveras hit a home run. Immeadiately after hitting a home run, it started pouring down rain that caused a 47 minute rain delay. Taveras didn’t hit much after that, and was sent down on June 19th, his birthday. He would be called back up eleven days later, for good.

The trade of Allen Craig opened up a full time spot for Taveras in right field. Baseball had come easy to Taveras since signing in 2008 at age 16. His brief time in the majors had been the only time he struggled during his career. Taveras hit better, but didn’t have the same passion for defense as he did hitting. He would lose playing time to Grichuk and Peter Bourjos later in the season. During the playoffs, it was Grichuk, not Taveras, who was the starting right fielder for the Cardinals.

While Taveras’ did have his struggles in 2014, big things were still expected of him. The team was planning on him working out in its spring training complex in November. He was scheduled to play winter ball this December. Mozeliak and Matheny were planning on Taveras competing for the right field spot in spring training next year. Besides his enormous talent, there were other reasons for optimism. Taveras had hit .295 in September, and hit a big pinch hit home run in the Cardinals only win against the Giants in the NLCS.

Many feel like the Cardinals missed out on a future star and a potential franchise player. Taveras was compared to players who won MVP’s. The Cardinals front office had previously hyped up prospects like J.D. Drew and Colby Rasmus in a similar way. Drew went on to have a very good career and Rasmus has had some moderate success, but neither player turned into stars.  There’s no telling what kind of career Taveras would have had. Fate had it that he would be struck down before his time.