With Winter Meetings being underway and an abundance of big fish still yet to be netted, the probability that the proverbial dominos will start to fall soon is a definite. Even with some of the bigger names still in play, namely the top notch arms of Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, one could argue in favor of the some of the moves made so far being more important than any other occurrence during this offseason.
One of the more surprising moves, which still baffles many, was a deal conducted between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, in which the Red Birds received the Braves presumed “Face of the Franchise”, Jason Heyward, in exchange for fire-balling right-hander, Shelby Miller. While the two center pieces of the deal are very exciting players with plenty of upside, many around the baseball world believe the Cardinals made out like bandits in the deal, even going so far as to question what the Braves are thinking when it comes to the future of their franchise. Despite all of the speculation and heartache Braves fans have felt over this deal, there is a light on the horizon. This light is in the form of Shelby Miller.
It is true that some may not view Miller as being in the same class as a guy like Heyward, but in reality, the two are not so different from a talent standpoint. Could an entire analysis be done about the two? Sure, but this could be an entire article in itself. For the sake of length, we will limit things to a single, main similarity the two share: neither has really reached their ceiling yet. Many “experts” seem to have already pegged Heyward as more of a slick-fielding, table-setter rather than the power hitting, run producer he was supposed to be, but continued growth as he enters his prime could change things. Regardless of what happens from a growth standpoint, Heyward could have a fine career staying in his current role.
When it comes to Miller, it is really inconclusive as to what he can really be. One thing is certain; his talent level is off the charts. The Cardinals knew this when they drafted him out of his Texas high school 19th overall in 2009 and did a great job of bringing him along slowly, as they are known to do with all of their young pitching prospects. Since his six-game sample size at the end of the 2012 season, he has made over 30 starts and thrown at least 170 innings over the past two seasons. He showed the makings of a true, frontline starter in 2013 (31 GS/173.1 IP/15-9/3.06 ERA/169 K/1.206 WHIP), giving the team another more than reliable option behind ace, Adam Wainwright. He came out of the gate hot again in 2014, but struggled for four months before ending the regular season on a strong note. Not a great season by his standards considering all he is capable of (31 GS/183 IP/10-9/3.74 ERA/127 K/1.273 WHIP), but still was able to find himself and prove he is capable of so much more.
So what does a guy like Miller offer that can soften the bitter blow of losing a guy like Heyward? First off, his make-up plays largely in his favor. His sturdy, 6’ 3” frame gives him a solid base to deploy his entire arsenal. His fastball, which normally sits between the mid and upper 90s, is very explosive coming out of his hand when he wants it to be, but he has also been known to take a few miles per hour off to keep hitters guessing. He also features a sharp-breaking curve, sitting anywhere from the high-70s to low 80s, and a sweeping change, sitting in the mid-80s, which are both plus pitches. Secondly, his contract is very team friendly, which is quite appealing to the Braves. He will be under team control until hitting the free agent market in 2019, meaning the team will have him as he enters his prime. If all works out, the team could have a potential ace locked up, which could never be considered a bad thing. Heyward, who becomes a free agent in 2016, is certain to have very hefty contract demands when he signs his big deal, and there are never any guarantees of a hometown discount when it comes to the business side of baseball. Put simply, the Braves were thinking ahead when it came to this deal and there is a very real reason why they demanded Miller in return. They see something special.
After years of dominance, the Braves appear to be taking a different approach to things when considering the future of their franchise, but who is to say this will not work? When it comes down to it, pitching is what wins championships, and they just got a darn good one. Do not write off the guys in Atlanta. They still have plenty left to play for.