The Fascinating Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller Swap

Maybe we should have seen this coming. It was pretty clear that the Braves were going to trade an outfielder this winter, with both Justin Upton and Jason Heyward entering their final season before they became free agents, and the team apparently preferring to employ Evan Gattis as a left fielder rather than as a catcher. The team tried to re-sign Heyward when they spent last year locking up their young core, but found his price prohibitive, so he almost certainly wasn’t staying in Atlanta beyond the 2015 season, and the Braves probably aren’t good enough to be pushing all of their chips in for the upcoming season.

So, trading Heyward now makes a good amount of sense for the Braves, and they made it clear that acquiring starting pitching was their #1 priority this winter. A natural trade partner would have a hole in right field, some rotation depth, and the potential desire and ability to try and sign Heyward to a long-term deal before hit the open market next winter. No team in baseball fit that description as well as the St. Louis Cardinals, so while we didn’t hear any pre-deal rumors of the deal that sent Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Heyward and Jordan Walden, it feels like we should have anticipated something like this. It’s the kind of move that seemingly makes a lot of sense for both sides.

We’ll start with the Cardinals side of things, since they’re acquiring the best player in this deal. Jason Heyward is a stud, and you don’t even have to buy into defensive metrics to agree with that statement. For 2015, Steamer projects him at +4.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances, the 16th highest total of any position player in baseball, and that’s with him grading out as just a slightly above average defender: the +10 fielding projection right field adds up to a +3.5 DEF rating, which includes the positional adjustment for playing a corner spot. In terms of forecast defensive value, Heyward’s projection puts him in roughly a similar group to guys like David Wright, Robinson Cano, Pablo Sandoval, and Josh Reddick.

It’s also a significant step back from what he’s done previously, as his career DEF/600 PA rating is +10. In other words, Steamer is projecting Heyward to take a big step back defensively and still be one of the best players in the game, because the forecast sees a 25 year old with a career 117 wRC+ and positive contact rate trends, so it thinks Heyward is on the verge of a big offensive breakout. From a purely offensive standpoint, Steamer expects Heyward to be as good (or slightly better than) the good Upton, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, or Hanley Ramirez. If you combine the offensive level of those players with above average defensive value, well, you’re left with a superstar.

And that’s why the Cardinals have to be pretty thrilled with this move. They’re legitimately getting one of the best young players in baseball, and at the only position where they had a glaring need. Adding Heyward to fill their right field hole will end up being one of the largest improvements any team makes this winter. The question for the Cardinals is how long they’ll get to keep him.

Because of how quickly he got to the big leagues, Heyward is in line to hit free agency after his age-25 season, and he’s going to have roughly +25 career WAR when he reaches the open market. Barring a disastrous 2015 season, he’s going to get paid, and you can be certain that his agents will be pointing to the 13 year, $325 million deal that Giancarlo Stanton has agreed to as the new precedent. Sure, Heyward isn’t going to get 13/$325M, given the massive differences in power, but it seems likely that he’ll demand a deal that starts at 10 years and goes north of $200 million.

Robinson Cano got $240 million as a similarly valuable player entering his age-31 season; Heyward might not have Cano’s offensive track record, but he’s going to be selling his prime years, and the deal won’t extend into the period of his career where you’d expect him to essentially be worthless. If the Cardinals want to lock up Heyward before he gets to free agency, it’s probably going to take something like the contract they refused to give Albert Pujols. Maybe they might be able get him to take a slight pre-free agent discount and get him for 9/$200M or something in that range, but let’s dispel the notion that the Cardinals are going to be able to sign Heyward for anything other than a mountain of cash.

The team definitely has the means to take on a contract like that. They only have $73 million in committed contracts for next season, and Matt Holliday’s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season, so they have the flexibility to make Heyward a franchise-player type offer. And they do have a history of acquiring players on the cusp of free agency, only to convince them to stick around instead, but stretching for a single player the way Heyward will require would be something new for this front office.

For now, this has to be viewed as a rental. A rental with a chance to purchase, perhaps, but this isn’t a trade-and-sign deal like we’ve seen with the R.A. Dickey or Martin Prado trades the last few years. The Cardinals are getting a great right fielder, but they’re only guaranteed to get him for one year, and then it’s either a really large long-term commitment or settling for the compensation pick that comes from letting a premium free agent walk away at year’s end. There’s a non-zero chance that the long-term return on this deal for St. Louis will be minimal.

But the short-term upgrade is huge, especially if they flip Peter Bourjos for a starting pitcher to replace Miller, which shouldn’t be too terribly difficult. Having Heyward/Walden/Pitcher To Be Named instead of Bourjos/Miller/Jenkins could be a three or four win upgrade in 2015, depending on what kind of starter they get in return, and that’s three or four wins in a year in which marginal upgrades are going to be extremely valuable to the Cardinals.

Adam Wainwright is probably just about finished as an ace, and is headed for a decline. Yadier Molina won’t be able to hit forever. Holliday isn’t a spring chicken anymore. The Cardinals have plenty of good young talent, but their best players are getting worse, and the Cardinals needed a significant upgrade to put themselves in position to win the NL Central once again. This move does just that.

The long-term cost will essentially boil down to what you believe Shelby Miller is. Is he a top-flight young pitcher, the guy who has produced +6 WAR by runs allowed in 370 big league innings, and just turned 24? or is he a two-pitch tease, overrated by run prevention, heading for a short-term crash when his mediocre peripherals catch up with him? A strong case could be made for both outcomes.

Miller throws a lot of fastballs up in the zone, and as Eno noted through multiple conversations with pitchers this year, high fastballs can produce some terrific results, often inducing a lot of useless contact that isn’t captured in FIP-type metrics. If Miller’s approach to pitching up with a good fastball makes him a guy who can sustain a BABIP in the .270-.280 range, the underwhelming strikeout rates become a lot less problematic. If you’re a Braves fan who wants to be excited about this deal, here’s the first ~400 IP comparison you want to use.

Name IP BB% K% GB% HR/FB LOB% BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Shelby Miller 370 9% 20% 39% 10% 79% 0.267 92 110 110
Matt Cain 437 10% 20% 37% 6% 72% 0.259 83 86 102

Cain was always better at home run prevention than Miller, but the template is similar, and it’s certainly possible that Miller is a (somewhat worse) new version of the Cain skillset. If Miller’s FIP-beating ways prove sustainable to a significant degree, picking up four discounted years of a quality young arm is a very solid return for a single year of Heyward, especially if the Braves don’t see themselves as strong contenders in 2015.

But Cain is notable because most pitchers can’t do what he’s done, and not every young hurler who posts a low BABIP for 400 innings is definitely going to follow in his footsteps. Here’s another, less-rosy comparison for Miller, again with career performance through the equivalent of two full seasons.

Name IP BB% K% GB% HR/FB LOB% BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Jeremy Hellickson 402 8% 17% 38% 10% 82% 0.244 79 115 110
Shelby Miller 370 9% 20% 39% 10% 79% 0.267 92 110 110

A couple of years ago, the arguments for Hellickson were the same as they are for Miller today. Maybe he’s just good at inducing a lot of popups, and because he’s a flyball guy, he’s always going to run lower than average BABIPs, so he’s underrated by metrics that focus only on walks, strikeouts, and home runs or ground balls. Hellickson managed to keep things going through age-25, and then promptly fell apart, pitching poorly and getting injured. The Rays just shipped him to Arizona for two lower level prospects rather than bet on him returning to prior form.

More often than not, guys who post big gaps between their ERAs and their FIPs regress towards the latter, which is why FIP and xFIP work for most pitchers. It doesn’t mean Miller is definitely not an outlier, but he probably isn’t at outlier to the degree that he’s been so far, and he’s probably more of an okay pitcher than a very good one.

But even four years of an okay young arm is pretty valuable. After all, we’re looking at league average starters making $10-$12 million per year in free agency, and Miller will a little more than the league minimum this year, with three below-market arbitration years to follow. Even if Miller is more of a solid arm than a future ace, the Braves are getting a lot more quantity of value here, and they’re allocating it into the years where they think they might be more able to contend.

And Miller isn’t the only thing they’re getting. Tyrell Jenkins was a first round pick a couple of years ago, and while he’s battled arm problems since, Kiley McDaniel remains somewhat intrigued by his potential. Here’s Kiley’s updated take on Jenkins:

Jenkins missed the first half of 2014 recovering from shoulder surgery on a muscle in his shoulder (not the joint itself), something that had been bothering him for years. He turned 22 in the middle of this season and was understandably a bit rusty in half a season at High-A, but started to find his stride in the Arizona Fall League, where I scouted him a few weeks ago. He sat 92-94 and hit 96 mph, flashing above average fastball life at times, with an above average 80-83 mph hard curveball and a changeup at 81-84 mph that’s average when he keeps it down in the zone.

He’s incredibly athletic and the breaking ball has flashed plus at higher velocites, so there could still be even more in the tank than what I saw. I’d like to get a full, healthy 2015 on the books for Jenkins before i give a projection with some certainty, but he seems to be headed in the right direction now with enough starter traits to project him in a rotation. I’d grade him as a 50 FV/#4 starter now, but I could edit that up a notch by the middle of next season.

The combination of Miller and Jenkins give the Braves two live-arms that they’re buying somewhat low on, and if both end up pitching to their previously-believed potential, this would turn into a huge win for Atlanta. If either of them turn into quality mid-rotation starters, or if you think Miller is already that now, then this probably is a smart enough move for a somewhat-rebuilding team to divest a short-term asset into some future value.

Of course, if Miller is Hellickson 2.0 instead of Cain 2.0, and Jenkins is just another power arm who can’t miss bats, then this could look pretty terrible for the Braves as well. If Steamer is correct about Hewyard’s impending breakout, this could turn out to be a franchise player for a couple of arms with legitimate question marks who might turn out to be nothing at all. This move could be great, okay, or terrible for Atlanta, and it all depends on how the young arms develop, which is maybe the most difficult thing to project.

The fact that there’s no obvious most likely outcome suggests this is a pretty fair move for both sides. I probably prefer this a little bit from St. Louis’ perspective, since I lean more towards assuming Miller’s strikeout regression is a concern, but even I’d still say this is a fair return for a single year of a player looking at a monster paycheck next winter. The Cardinals get better now, and get a chance to make Heyward the new face of their franchise, while the Braves probaby get better for the future.

And that makes this seem like a smart trade for both teams. The Cardinals get the better player and a chance to extend a player the Braves weren’t going to keep, while the Braves get some good young pitching to make a stronger run in 2016. This is a deal that serves the purposes of both sides. It might end up favoring one or the other, but at the time of the deal, it makes sense for both Atlanta and St. Louis.

We hoped you liked reading The Fascinating Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller Swap by Dave Cameron!

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Eno's Fro
Guest

am I missing something here? This is not Jason Heyward 2012. Until something changes, he now has the stick of Nick Markakis and Markakis has been taking all sorts of crap lately. So, elite OF gloves are definitely not nothing, but I thought they generally don’t age as well as bats (or IFers) do… idk, this sounds an awful lot like another regrettable Elvis Andrus deal is going to happen…

Evan
Guest
Evan

Except Nick Markakis is one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game while Heyward is one of the best.

Eno's Fro
Guest

that’s a crock. His range might not be what it once was but he’s the active leader in OF assists. Saying his defense is one of the worst is an enormous exaggeration but it’s beside the point anyway.

I acknowledged Heyward’s elite defense but how long will that last? If his bat is only marginally better than Markakis’s how is that a 200M player? You cannot pay for age alone.

Anthony
Guest
Anthony

His bat and glove are better, has two seasons in a nine year career that are over 2.5 WAR. Heyward has four seasons in a five-year career that are over 2.5 WAR and his fifth season checks in at ~450 PA with a 2.0 WAR.

Even so, Markakis will earn close to 110 MM for his age 25-34 seasons, and it’s been six years since Markakis’ age-25 season. Heyward earning 200 MM for age-26 to age-35 isn’t ridiculous.

I, roboandrewJackson
Guest
I, roboandrewJackson

Ah, assists. The RBIs of defense.

So you’re saying that we should look at assists but dismiss most of the value from outfield range and age? Yeah, that’s clearly not crazy. *Wink* *Wink*

Anthony
Guest
Anthony

That should say Markakis has two seasons in his nine year career over 2.5 WAR.

cs3
Member
cs3

OF assists =/= “good defensive outfielder”

Exhibit A: Yoenis Cespedes
Exhibit B: Nick Markakis

Teej
Guest
Teej

The only positive number in Markakis’ “Defense” column (which accounts for throwing) was seven years ago. His career-long mediocrity there is a pretty nice sample size. His strong arm doesn’t come anywhere close to compensating for his inability to get to the baseball and catch it. I’d say the eye test bears that out as well.

So you’re adding “the stick of Markakis” to a player who is multiple wins better than Markakis defensively every year. The big difference in value seems easily explained by the big difference in talent.

Happy Fun Ball
Guest
Happy Fun Ball

Or, you could say that he leads in assists because baserunners simply aren’t afraid to test him.

Eno's Fro
Guest

regardless, I didn’t come here to discuss NM’s defense. the opening statement couldn’t have been more clear.

Eno's Fro
Guest

whatever. I guess some people can’t be happy unless they can find something to argue over.

Teej
Guest
Teej

Sorry that you didn’t come here to talk about Markakis’ defense, but when you’re asking why Jason Heyward is going to get paid a lot more than Nick Markakis, defense is going to be a big part of the answer.

Eno's Fro
Guest

but defense usually doesn’t get paid the way the article is suggesting.

Anon
Guest
Anon

“that’s a crock. His range might not be what it once was but he’s the active leader in OF assists.”

Except. . . . .Markakis is not the career active leader in assists for an OF. He’s not even 2nd, he’s 5th behind Beltran, Torii Hunter, francouer and Ichiro.

Gotta get them facts right my man.

Jake deBomb
Guest

he’s the career leader since he’s been in the league.

Anon
Guest
Anon

Well, except that isn’t true either. Francoeur still has more than Markakis since Markakis came up in 2006.

Eno's Fro
Guest

Francoeur isn’t active. Why keep trying to trip me up??

BVHeck
Guest
BVHeck

Francoeur has not retired. Therefore he is still active.

Jake is da Bomb
Guest

what is with the constant trying to trip people up? who fucking cares if Jeff Francoeur hasn’t retired yet? Is that at all meaningful?

Anon
Guest
Anon

I don’t know, you posted it as fact man, not me. You want to deal in facts, you got to get the facts right. That was an easy one – it isn’t even opinion or a complicated advanced stat. You hinged your argument on Markakis being the active leader in OF assists but he ain’t.

Matthew Murphy
Member

Markakis is 31 and has had a wRC+ above 110 one of the past four years.
Heyward is 25 and has had a wRC+ below 110 just one year in his five-year career (2011).

Jake and Elroy
Guest
Jake and Elroy

We’re getting the band back together. We’re on a mission from god.

Elwood Blues
Guest
Elwood Blues

Close enough.

Teej
Guest
Teej

Heyward was a 5-win player last year and projects to be about the same. Markakis hasn’t been a 5-win player since 2008. And what those guys said.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Admittedly, Markakis was a bit older when he came up, but in reading about Heyward today I couldn’t help but make the Markakis comp myself. At the beginning of his career, Markakis was an athletic RF with good (not as good as Heyward’s) power, on base/contact skills and defense. His power and defense have steadily declined leaving him as not a particularly valuable player. A huge contract for Heyward could look bad very quickly.

I, roboandrewJackson
Guest
I, roboandrewJackson

Markakis was never that great of a defender, and like a hitter who has a freak outlier year, his 2008 season shouldn’t be considered his true talent at that point.

Over his first 4 years, Markakis produced 12 DRS in 5571 innings (2.15 per 1000) and 1.5 UZR/150. Over his first 4 years, Heyward produced 66 DRS in 4404 innings (15 per 1000) and 15.8 UZR/150.

Mark
Guest
Mark

That is a fair point. I mis-remembered. Heyward’s offense is still concerning, but presuming he defense doesn’t fall off a cliff, his value can weather an offensive decline more easily. That said, I’d still be pretty wary of a long-term, high value contract.

Erik
Guest

It should also be mentioned, there is no way Hayward signs for as little as Markakis did. If Hey ward were to become NK the contract he signs will end up being far worse.

Anthony
Guest
Anthony

Nick Markakis has exceeded a 116 wRC+ just once since 2009, the year before Heyward broke into the league, and that specific year was injury-shortened and only 471 PA. Only twice has he exceeded a 107 wRC+ in those six years, and his best DEF rating is -2.5, which was in 2014. Nick Markakis got paid 66.1 MM for those six years and is expected to command 40 MM+ for 2015-2018, making his ten-year, age-25 to age-34 haul about 106 MM.

In three of Heyward’s five seasons, he has reached the 120 wRC+ mark, and has a career 117 wRC+ mark, with only one season – his rookie year, which happened to be the year that coincided with his best offense – being lower than a +4 DEF rating. He’s ranged from 96 wRC+ to 134 wRC+ in that time and has exceed 2.0 WAR every season of his career, while Markakis, who had also exceeded 2.0 WAR every year when he signed that 6-year extension, has only exceeded 2.0 WAR once in the last four years.

Heyward is a much better player who is reaching free agency, which Markakis didn’t do, at the same age Markakis signed a 6-year, 66 MM extension, basically. Heyward has a very good case for earning 200 MM from age 26-35 when you consider his superior offense, superior defense, and inflation.

Eno's Fro
Guest

not looking at a lengthy history of either player; only what each appears to be now.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip

To judge what they appear to be now, it is based to gather as much data as possible. It seems like anything that happened 2+ years ago should not relevant on our current-day projections, but it does have an impact.

peiderp
Guest
peiderp

Then all you have to do is go to the steamer 2015 projections.
Heyward: 127 wRC+
Markakis: 103 wRC+
This is not even close.

Eno's Fro
Guest

sure, let’s leave everything to Steamer.

peiderp
Guest
peiderp

Yes, let’s. If you want to know the truth, sarcasm will not aid you any. I posted a comment farther down about MGL’s research on projections for someone else, and you need to read it as well to understand their value. The reality is that steamer can more accurately project true talent in offense better than any of us can. So in response to your original concern about what each player is now, the wRC+ for the 2015 season from steamer gives the best available answer.

Eno's Fro
Guest

wow, what is with the anger that some people carry around and can’t take anything that doesn’t fall in line with the saber dogma… sheesh!

KDL
Guest
KDL

Saying Heyward is significantly better than Markakis has almost nothing to do with dogma.
I’ve seen the rest of your work in this thread…you can troll better than that.

Eno's Fro
Guest

you can’t do any better than use the T word. lame.

Eno's Fro
Guest

again, reading comprehension… I am speaking of stick to stick and please drop the pre-beaning Heyward from the discussion. We don’t know if that guy exists any longer. I can’t believe how nuance is lost on these allegedly smart readers.

Newbie
Guest
Newbie

Then to answer the question you posted above at 2:35 PM yesterday, you are obviously missing “something”, age and history as predictors as well as valuing the defense of each player.

Jake is da Bomb
Guest

forget about history. what Heyward does in 2015 is going to be the single biggest determining factor as to the contract he’ll be able to get thereafter. If he continues to be a 110 RC+ type of hitter slugging below 400 but with elite defense, that simply isn’t going to get him a 200M contract.

However, if he bounces back to have a better offensive season, then the market for him will be far more robust. 2015 is a big year for him, needless to say.

Brian
Guest

The key to your point may lie in how seriously the Cardinals intend to keep Heyward long term. If they’re going all-in for one year only, then the concerns about Heyward’s defense aging prematurely are fairly negligible. But if they want to make Heyward the ‘face of the franchise,’ as Dave says (and yes, they do have the cash to do that if they want), then your points are more well taken.

Evan Ruff
Guest
Evan Ruff

Also, I think it’s important to note that this does not preclude Atlanta from bidding on Heyward in FA if they so choose. Obviously, it’s going to be more expensive, but it’s still an option.

If Miller keeps it going and/or Jenkins breaks out, plus health from the rest of the Braves rotation, perhaps the window for contention will better line up with the hometown kid’s contract.

Basebard hosted by Shakey Bill
Guest
Basebard hosted by Shakey Bill

Wherefor art thou, fair comparison?

Yay verily, t’is the Heyward before us anon,
Yet sage Baseball Ref looks on his bearing, and
Finds Yon Closest Comparison (at age 24 years)
To lie in the green youthful pre-HGH visage of
One Barry Bonds.

Or rather: Heyward as Bonds’ C.C.,
With the estimable Lloyd Mosby closer yet
When looked at first thru the Heyward prism.

I hazard the Cards as fair curious upon which Quantum young Jason shall be found settled,
As may be all we here.

Of all that, you seem amiss.

tz
Guest
tz

Ye forgotteth Baseball Ref comp #3:

Jeff Francoeur

Yes, 2 of Heyward’s top comps are Barry Bonds and Jeff Francoeur. Two guys you should just naturally associate with one another.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/braves-cardinals-swap-jason-heyward-shelby-miller/#comment-4812959

Basebard hosted by Shakey Bill
Guest
Basebard hosted by Shakey Bill

Ah, fair kanigget of the online thread,
T’is true that, once upon a whimssy,
Said since-unveiled Quixote of the Diamond Set
Sparked glorious visions of WAR-like splendor
Among the corporate gentry and managerial Machiavellis
Of the base-balling galaxy.

But t’would be prudent to take care, forsooth,
Lest to confuse
The charms of those enticing shadows of yester-year
With the base rotted-out reality as known today.
For, alas and alacky, tz,
Look ye ho and gaze upon the splendors
Of said Bonds, at 22, being best compared to …
Brunansky.

‘Seems t’is art, and chancey at that,
So much as a science and the divinations of wizards,
That we contemplate here.
Still and all: how cheaply bought by Saint Louis,
This lottery chance at what might be
Not just newt spring but for springs yet untold!

Johnston
Guest

I think I’d rather have the stupid horse back.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb

If Heyward has Markakis’ stick, perhaps that explains why there’s not much market for Nick. If he’s able to find a new sick, maybe his market will open up.