MLB Hot Stove Burning Up

The week of November 17 got off to a fast start for Major League Baseball, as a high-profile free agent agreed to terms, two perennial contenders completed a blockbuster trade and a young superstar signed a record-breaking contract.

Cards-Braves Complete Blockbuster

In a move that could impact several others this off-season, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves completed a blockbuster deal on Monday. In the trade, the Cardinals acquired OF Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden in exchange for starter Shelby Miller and top pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

Scout's Bill Shanks and Brian Walton break down the trade.

The deal gives the Cardinals an everyday right-fielder and potentially a new lead-off hitter. St. Louis struggled offensively at times during the 2014 regular season and they hope that Heyward will bring power, patience and speed to their line-up while also improving their outfield defense. Heyward had two relatively average seasons for Atlanta at the plate in 2013 and 2014, but he hit 27 homers in 2012. Even with the relatively mediocre numbers at the plate in 2014, Heyward was worth 6.3 WAR last season, the best mark of his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.

Heyward will fill the void in the Cardinals’ outfield that was left by the death of top prospect Oscar Taveras and the mid-season trade of outfielder Allen Craig. The move will allow the Cardinals to shift Randal Grichuk into a fourth-outfielder role and gives them some flexibility with their line-up. Heyward is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2015 season, likely a major factor in the Braves’ decision to trade him.

The acquisition of Walden is a strong indication that the Cardinals don’t intend to re-sign free agent set-up man Pat Neshek. Walden, a former Angels’ top prospect, has been plagued by injuries during his brief career, but he is a flamethrower who has had some success in a set-up and closer role and should fit in nicely towards the back-end of the Cardinals’ bullpen.

Scout publisher Brian Walton of TheCardinalNation.com had this to say about the deal:

“This is a bold, win-now move for the Cardinals. They emphatically address their right field need with a proven left-handed, top-of-the-lineup hitter and plus defender, but a player who has just one year remaining on his current contract. They give up a young starting pitcher in Miller who has four seasons remaining until free agency…

“The Cardinals also stand to benefit over the long haul if Heyward likes the club and remains long term. Even if not, St. Louis should be able to make a qualifying offer next winter and receive a 2016 draft pick if the outfielder moves on after one season.

“Walden joins Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal in a hard-throwing Cardinals bullpen. He has two years of control remaining and helps address the hole left by the departure of Pat Neshek as a free agent. Walden’s past closing experience is a plus.”

To read the rest of Walton’s analysis of this deal, click here

This move could be an indication that the Braves plan to rebuild in 2015, rather than loading up on veterans for another run at the NL East title. At the very least, adding Miller means the Braves are most likely out of the picture for the major free agent starters on the market – notably Jon Lester, James Shields and Max Scherzer. If the Braves are rebuilding, they could look to move outfielder Justin Upton, who is a free agent after the 2015 season. This trade could also set the market for other deals involving high-profile position players.

The Braves are getting two pitchers with significant talent who will be under team control for several years to come (Miller four and Jenkins the full six). They also save a significant amount of salary for the 2015 season (likely $9 million between Heyward and Walden), salary they can use to fill other areas of need this off-season.

This is the second trade the Braves have made over the past few days. Over the weekend, Atlanta acquired reliever Ardoys Vizcaino from the Cubs for second baseman Tommy LaStella. Vizcaino should take Walden’s spot in the Atlanta bullpen, while Miller will assume one of the top spots in the Braves’ rotation. Jenkins could compete for a rotation spot this spring, although he is more likely to join the team in September or in 2016.

According to AtlantaDugout.com publisher Bill Shanks, the Braves have several ways they can shape their outfield for 2015:

“As for right field, the Braves now have several options. They can place Evan Gattis in left field and move Justin Upton to right, where he played in Arizona with the Diamondbacks. Or the team can sign a free agent or make another trade.

“Since the Braves traded Heyward, it’s a sign that a trade involving Justin Upton could be next. He is also a free agent after next season and it does not appear the Braves will re-sign him either. Of course, the Braves are desperately trying to trade Justin’s brother B.J. in a deal this winter.”

To read all of Shanks’ analysis of the deal, please click here and here


Marlins Agree to Terms with Stanton

The Miami Marlins have agreed to terms with superstar outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on a 13-year, $325 million extension that will break all sorts of MLB salary records. The deal is expected to include an opt-out and a no-trade clause. It is anticipated that the deal will be announced officially in a press conference on Wednesday.

Stanton is one of the premier sluggers in baseball and many believed he would be on the trade market sometime in the next year, as he grew closer to free agency. However, the Marlins made a significant commitment to their superstar in their most recent attempt to try to convince fans they are serious about winning in South Florida.

For more on this deal, click here


Martin Spurns Cubs, Signs with Jays

The Chicago Cubs were thought to be the front-runners for the services of free agent catcher Russell Martin, but the Ontario native chose to return to his native country, inking a reported five-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The deal was first reported by MLB Network’s Peter Gammons and it is believed to be worth $82 million.

Martin was a big part of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ resurgence as a playoff team in 2013 and 2014. Considered one of the top defensive catchers in baseball, Martin had a strong offensive season in 2014, as well. He is a contact-oriented hitter who can bat in several different spots in the line-up. Martin also runs well for a catcher. He should be an excellent number two hitter for Toronto between lead-off man Jose Reyes and middle-of-the-order threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

The Jays are thought to still be seeking pitching help, as well as possibly one more outfielder. For more on this deal, click here


Other News and Notes

-- Free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval is expected to meet with the Boston Red Sox this week. His agent tweeted on Monday that Sandoval had just landed in Boston and that a meeting would take place soon.

-- The Detroit Tigers re-signed veteran Victor Martinez to a four-year deal late last week. It isn’t clear whether the Tigers intend to bid on their other key free agent Max Scherzer. The Tigers informed free agent veteran Torii Hunter last week that they would not be bidding for his services for 2015.

-- The Blue Jays are expressing some interest in free agent starter Jon Lester, according to reports, although GM Alex Anthopoulos says the team won’t go the six years Lester is looking for in his free agent deal.

-- The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired power-hitting Triple-A prospect Kyle Jensen from the Miami Marlins for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Jensen has hit at least 22 homers in each of the last four minor league seasons.


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