Why the Braves traded Jason Heyward

Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward catches a line drive hit by the Chicago Cubs' Starlin Castro in the third inning at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Atlanta Braves’ Jason Heyward catches a line drive hit by the Chicago Cubs’ Starlin Castro in the third inning at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

By Travis Jaudon, Staff Writer

The Atlanta Braves are wasting no time shaking up the roster under the new management of John Hart.

On Nov. 17 the club traded fan-favorite Jason Heyward to the Cardinals in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins. Atlanta also sent setup man Jordan Walden to St. Louis in the trade.

These adjustments sent Braves fans into a frenzy just days after Atlanta sent young second baseman Tommy La Stella to the Cubs in exchange for young a young hard thrower in Arodys Vizcaino.

The move to ship Heyward off is an indicator that the Braves are ready to rebuild, but that doesn’t mean what most Atlanta fans think it does. Atlanta is on the right track, and the most recent trade proves why.

Heyward, the McDonough and Henry County High School native, is a 25-year-old gold glove outfielder that has hit .262 for his career including a .271 average in 2014. The average, although decent, isn’t why Heyward is valued.

The Cardinals are getting a premier defensive right-fielder and a quality baserunner (20 steals in 2014). The Cardinals are also getting an overall “good guy.” Before I explained why I agree with the Heyward trade, I wanted to voice how much I respect and appreciate the player Heyward was while in Atlanta. He was a solid player, but that doesn’t mean he should be in the Braves future.

Atlanta wasn’t going to be able to resign Jason Heyward. He was looking for something in the $14-$18 million a year as opposed to his current $8 million a year salary. Heyward has plans to become a free agent after the 2015 season, which likely means he would’ve been traded by mid July had the Braves been out of the playoff race. Trading Heyward now means the Braves get more in return than they would in the future, but it also means the rest of the roster may be in for a change.

The Braves outfield, as it stands today, looks like this: Evan Gattis in left, BJ Upton in center, and Justin Upton in right. That would easily be the worst defensive outfield in baseball, but that may not be the lineup come march. Since the Heyward trade, about $8 million comes off the books immediately and that money opening up makes it easier to sign Justin Upton to an extension. Signing Upton to an extension would solidify the middle of the order for Atlanta with him and Freeman in place long term. But what does this Heyward trade have any direct impact on Evan Gattis? I say yes.

2015 is no longer the Braves priority, something Braves fans must come to grips with. Because next season isn’t a World Series or bust year, playing Evan Gattis behind the plate is extremely unlikely, as well it should be. This means Gattis is now an everyday outfielder, and that isn’t going to be a viable plan moving forward. I believe the Braves are mere weeks or months away from getting rid of Gattis while his contract still makes it easy to do so. Trading Gattis and packaging him with BJ Upton will allow Atlanta to open up the budget in preparation for future off-season signings. Since the Heyward trade is complete, Gattis is now the next piece up for grabs.

Jason Heyward is gone, and good thing he is. The Braves didn’t get equal value in return, but they got a quality starter and high-reward low-risk reliever prospect.

The trade signifies a change in strategy for Atlanta, and it’s a change for the better.