Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Say It Ain't Hey

Jason Heyward was one of my favorite Braves players. He plays hard and gives his all – without complaining or mouthing off. Doesn’t swing for the fences. Instead he aims for the gaps. His baserunning and defense are without peer. Some call him a beast. The same could be said for Mike Trout.

But that’s where the comparisons end. Heyward has his faults, and is a year away from free agency. A career .262 hitter. Can’t hit lefties. Holes in his swing. Home run total fell from 27 to 14 to 11. Suffered injury after injury. I’m sure he will be motivated to have a monster season – but can he? Will he stay healthy? Lots of questions the complainers forget.

Despite what Jason says after after the fact, there has been indication the New York native wasn’t going to test the free agent waters at the end of next season. With his beloved grandparents still living in New York, there’s a good chance Heyward will sign with the Yankees. What would fans say if Heyward walked and the Braves received no compensation? (They’d blame the team, as they did when Hudson and McCann bolted for more money – forgetting that their replacements outperformed them).  

In August and September the Braves’ offense fell flat. Fans demanded change. Trade the entire team, they cried. Yet there was outrage Sunday when rookie backup second baseman Tommy LaStella was traded for a top pitching prospect – with TWO better second-sackers ahead of him. LaStella lost his job to the better-hitting, more versatile Gosselin. Room must be made for the second-baseman of the future. You’d think fans in the know would understand. Fans want to hold onto the past - while at the same time saying the Braves shouldn’t repeat what failed in the past. Can’t have it both ways.

It says something that not all fans are crying foul. Many get it. Will’s friend Kevin, who almost joined us on that blog, understood and favored the Heyward trade. Experts Buster Onley and Keith Law thought the trade helped both teams. Rare that I hear about a trade from Matthew. Ceil wondered if the flags were at half-mast for Jason.

Though the Braves had one of the best pitching staffs in the majors last year, many said they need to bolster their pitching. Santana and Harang are free agents. Venters, Medlen, and Beachy are recovering from multiple Tommy John surgeries and are far from sure things. In the past two days John Hart traded for three pitchers – an established starter and two highly touted prospects who can also contribute in 2015. The Braves gave up a third string rookie second baseman, an oft-injured/over-the-hill reliever, and an oft-injured career .262 hitter in the last year of his contract. And there’s 4-1/2 months to make more moves.

Chuck Oliver suggested the Braves sign veteran outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. The King has a point. Ichiro played 146 games last year and hit .284 – better than Heyward, Justin, BJ, and even Gattis. Though 41, Suzuki is in great shape and can be had cheap. Could bat leadoff if needed. His march to 3000 hits (and to break Pete Rose’s all-time hit record) would boost attendance. His unequaled work ethic would be a plus.

Players are traded all the time, and not re-signed as free agents. That’s baseball. What did Brewers fans say when all-star Prince Felder was allowed to walk? What did Diamondback fans say when Justin Upton was traded? What did Oakland fans say when their best offensive player (Cespedes) was traded last year? When was the last time either of those teams won anything? Winners make unpopular decisions as well. The Giants let fan-favorite Sandoval walk. The Cardinals let the greatest hitter in their history (Pujols) walk. The Rangers let Josh Hamilton walk without compensation.    

Though the offense wiltered in the August heat, Heyward hit .298 after the all-star break. His injuries may be a thing of the past. Home runs can be over-rated. Heyward may grow into an even more dominant player. Jeff Schultz says it’s a gamble to trade Heyward, and it is. Trading for Uggla was a gamble most fans loved at the time, considering the rag-tag playoff lineup the year before (Glaus, Diaz, Conrad, Ankiel, Infante, etc). Signing BJ was a gamble that flopped.

Throwing $100 million at Heyward would be just as much a gamble. Even waiting and thinking the Braves could sign free agent Heyward would be a gamble. The Braves made the most reasonable move. In two or three years this could be a trade the Cardinals regret.

ROB SAYS: Emotionally, I hate to see Jason Heyward leave.  He played hard and was fun to watch.

However I think sometimes we (or maybe just me) forget that our favorite players to watch are not necessarily the best players to build a team around.  I wish the Braves would have made an effort to extend Jason.  However from a team building standpoint, I can understand why they did not.  Five years into his career, we still don't know who Jason Heyward really is.  Will he be a premier offensive player?  Or will he be what he is now - an elite defender and base runner with limited power.  I think in St Louis next year, and maybe Boston the year after, he will be put in a role where he can come closer to reaching his offensive potential.  Boston can afford to spend $100MM+ on a player who is not a superstar.  We cannot.

So if you were not going to sign him long term, I think Hart made an excellent trade.  Miller has a high upside and at worst is a solid mid-rotation starter.

I like the Jon Lester rumors I am hearing.  By trading for Miller and signing Lester,  you can non-tender Medlen and Beachy.  Combining that with the money saved from Heyward and Santana, they could afford Lester.  A rotation of Lester, Teheran, Wood, Miller and Minor would give you a chance to win every day.

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