News trickled out yesterday evening that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves have discussed a trade that would involve young outfielder Joc Pederson and starting pitcher Shelby Miller. While it is still unclear how aggressively either team is shopping their player, this could turn into one of the more interesting potential trades to watch this winter. Pederson fills a need for the Braves, while Miller fills a need for the Dodgers.
The Braves have attacked their rebuilding efforts with gusto, already trading away Andrelton Simmons and Cameron Maybin. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis could be next. As the Braves strip down their offense, a starting pitcher like Miller could become very expendable. Despite his 3.02 ERA, Miller lost 17 games on the season. On May 17, the 25-year-old right-hander was 5-1. He would not win another game until his final start of the season on October 4.
The Braves got two elite pitching prospects in the Simmons trade, and are building a stable of young, power arms in their farm system. Miller could become viewed as expendable while the Braves wait for all that pitching talent to develop. What the Braves do not have is an overabundance of young star power. Outside of Freeman, there is very little reason (as Miller can attest) to watch the Braves at the plate. Hector Olivera could turn into a star, but adding a power bat like Pederson’s could pique the Braves’ interest. The Dodgers are far from the only team to inquire on Miller, as up to 20 teams have been in touch with the Braves. There is a very good chance he gets moved.
Miller would make a good fit for the Dodgers as they try to iron out their rotation. Zack Greinke‘s decision will influence just how aggressively the Dodgers pursue Miller. Pitching in Dodger Stadium should suit Miller, as he has always been able to limit home run balls. Control has been an issue with Miller, and he did appear to run out of steam just a bit in the second half of the year. Pitching for a contender, however, could allow him to relax on the mound. At times this year with the Braves, Miller essentially had to be perfect on the mound to even have a shot at a win.
As for Pederson, his first full big-league season was a mixed bag. The 23-year-old outfielder did hit 26 home runs while displaying prodigious power, but there were some major bumps in the road over the second half of the season. Pederson wrapped up the season with a .210/.346/.417 line with 92 walks and 170 strikeouts in 151 games. Through the first 169 games of his career, Pederson has batted .207.
The second half of 2015 was ugly for Pederson. He slashed .178/.317/.300 with only six home runs. The rookie did manage to cut down on his strikeouts after the All-Star break, as he whiffed only 63 times in 62 games, compared to 107 strikeouts in 89 first half games. Pederson did not appear to trust himself at the plate at all as he slumped, but did manage to continue drawing walks. In August, he managed to register a .384 OBP despite batting only .120. For the month, Pederson collected only six hits, but walked 21 times. Batting eighth, Pederson managed to walk in nearly 20% of his plate appearances, so there is a possibility that many of his walks came as a result of hitting in front of the pitcher.
Though he struggled terribly down the stretch, there would seem to be much more potential waiting to be tapped for Joc Pederson. In his final season in the minors, he hit .297 with 34 homers in 143 games while also walking 110 times. At a young age, Pederson already has a very refined grasp of the strike zone. In fact, his grasp of the strike zone may be too refined. At times, Pederson looked timid at the plate last year. Though he chased less than 30% of pitches off the plate, he only swung at slightly more than 60% of pitches in the strike zone.
Keeping the bat on his shoulder while waiting for a perfect pitch to hit held Pederson back in the batter’s box. He was in a two-strike count far too often, and could not handle changeups, curveballs, and sliders. Against those three types of pitches, Pederson came up empty over 50% of the time when he actually swung. If the Dodgers can work with Pederson to develop a slightly more aggressive approach on balls in the strike zone, he should begin sending more balls out of the yard. The power is there. Pederson may never hit .300 or totally cut down on his strikeouts, but as he grows as a hitter, he should at least bat .270 with 35-40 home runs.
The Dodgers have an aging roster with only a few young stars. It is still difficult imagining them actually including Pederson in a deal, but he is not untouchable. It would take a young, controllable arm like Miller’s to make a deal happen, with a few more pieces moving in the process. For now, this trade will likely stay in the very early stages of discussion, but it could gain some traction if Zack Greinke signs with a rival like the San Francisco Giants or Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers and Braves did do business together at the trade deadline, so there is familiarity between the front offices and the farm systems.
On Opening Day, Joc Pederson will most likely be wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. As for Shelby Miller, what team he suits up for in 2016 remains up in the air. The Braves are rebuilding, and there are too many teams interested for them to continue holding onto a very valuable asset.