When Braves executives John Hart and John Coppolella began their offseason radical makeover of the lineup last November by trading Jason Heyward to St. Louis, I wrote they were taking a monumental risk.
It wasn’t meant as a criticism of pitcher Shelby Miller, who came to Atlanta as part of the deal, but rather who the Braves potentially were giving up: a home-grown player who could win games with his defense and speed, even when he was struggling at the plate. Because the real concern was: What would happen if the Heyward everybody expected offensively when he made his major league debut by crushing a home run ever materialized in St. Louis?
Well, it looks like he has.
After going 3-for-4 with a home run in the Cardinals’ last game Sunday, Heyward is 11-for-20 (.550) in the last five games and is hitting .355 in June. He is hitting .279 for the season but consider his month-by-month splits: .217 in April, .284 in May, .355 in June.
There is no guarantee Heyward will evolve into the power hitter many expected for a player of his size (6-foot-5, 245). His seven homers project to 16 over a full season. That’s more than either of the last two years (14, 11) but not close to the 27 he hit in 2012. But he is finding his rhythm offensively, something he struggled to do in Atlanta, at least in part because of injuries.
This is at least the early stages of a potential Braves’ nightmare.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “I don’t know what else you could ask for.
“The word I keep coming back to is ‘free.’ I don’t know ‘free’ from what? But I saw a guy trying to do so much he was almost bound up. … He was trying to, one, make an impression on his new team and, two, still trying to figure out the kind of hitter he wants to be. And you always have free agency hanging over your shoulder. There are a lot of things going on all at once and it looks to me like he got rid of some of the clutter.”
The Braves dealt Heyward because they believed they would not be able to re-sign him in free agency. They also liked Miller, who has been the Braves’ best starter: a 1.99 ERA, despite only a 5-3 record, and staff highs of 90 1/3 innings and 10 “quality starts” in 14 outings.
So this could end up being the rare trade that helps both teams.
There’s also this scenario to consider: Would the Braves consider going after Heyward in free agency, or do you believe that a productive season would make him too rich for their budget?
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