November 17, 2014: Cardinals trade for Jason Heyward following Oscar Taveras’s passing

Just 22 days after outfielder Oscar Taveras passed away in an alcohol-related car accident in his native Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, the Cardinals traded away two young pitchers to obtain the player they hoped would take Taveras’s place as their right fielder of the future.

On November 17, 2014, the Cardinals traded pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for outfielder Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden. It was an out-of-character trade for the Cardinals, who had long hoarded young pitchers like a dragon protecting its gold. Coming on the heels of Taveras’s untimely passing, however, these were unusual times.

“We’ve always talked about development. We’ve talked about controlling our own players and having that cost certainty moving forward,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “We did feel after the events of this offseason that we had to do something different, that we had to look at a way to add an impact player to our club. We really felt that this would be the best way to improve our team and make a change on how you think about the St. Louis Cardinals for 2015. We’ve said all along we’re focused on 2015.”[1]

Heading into the offseason, Mozeliak said the Cardinals planned for Taveras to be their everyday right fielder in 2015. [2] Before Taveras homered in his major-league debut that spring, he had been considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, ranking as high as No. 2 with Baseball Prospectus[3] and No. 3 with MLB.com.[4]

Now the Cardinals found themselves with a significant hole in their lineup on a team that was expected to contend for a National League pennant. To fill that hole, the Cardinals moved outside of their standard comfort zone.

“If only for a brief time, one season, Heyward will not only stabilize the outfield, but he’ll also help calm the rolling emotions that unsettled this organization in the aftermath of Oscar’s shocking death,” wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz. “And if we’re trying to assess every aspect of the trade’s value, that’s a consideration that shouldn’t be minimized.”

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Heyward was drafted 14th overall by the Braves in 2007 out of Henry County High School in McDonough, Georgia. He made an auspicious debut in 2010, batting .277/.393/.849 in his rookie season with 18 homers and 72 RBIs. Along the way, he was named to the all-star game, placed second in the Rookie of the Year Award balloting, and even received 11 points in the MVP voting.

During his five seasons in Atlanta, Heyward established himself as a premier defender in right field, winning Gold Glove Awards in 2012 and 2014. In his final season in Atlanta, however, Heyward’s slugging percentage had dropped to .384, down from a high of .479 when he hit 27 homers in 2012. The Cardinals believed Heyward’s decrease in power could be attributed to a change in approach after moving to the leadoff position in the Braves’ lineup.

“I do know a leadoff hitter is not one that’s looked at to strike out a lot,” Heyward said. “They’re supposed to attempt to get on base every at-bat. Regardless of how it gets done, you’re just trying to set the table. That was new to the season. I wasn’t developed with that mindset.”[5]

Heyward was entering the final season of a two-year contract that would pay him $7.8 million in 2015 before he entered free agency.[6] In trading Heyward, the Braves were seeking compensation for a player they didn’t believe they would be able to re-sign.

“It’s very difficult to trade Jason Heyward,” Braves general manager John Hart said, “but the deal was made to help us not only in the short term but the long term.”[7]

For his part, Heyward said he never had an extension offer on the table.

“I’m not surprised at all about the possibility that a team would look to trade if they didn’t think they were going to get something done long term,” Heyward said. “I wasn’t necessarily saying I was gone to free agency. We just never had any talks, to be honest. Nothing longer than a five-minute conversation after the 2012 season.”[8]

Heyward’s impending free agency made the trade risky for the Cardinals, though the team would receive a compensation draft pick were he to sign elsewhere.

“Our strategy in the past has been to bring players in here, let them get a feel for what this is about, and if they like it we tend to find ways to make them stay,” Mozeliak said. “If they don’t, then they move on.”[9]

“Change of scenery can be very refreshing in a lot of ways,” Heyward said. “As far as going forward, I want to take things one step at a time, get acclimated to my new teammates, get acclimated with the new organization and put my best foot forward for 2015. Everything else after that will take care of itself.”[10]

In Walden, the Cardinals obtained a 6-foot-5 right-handed reliever who had proven that he could pitch in the back end of a bullpen. As a rookie in 2011, Walden saved 32 games for the Angels, earning an all-star nod and placing seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting.

In 2014 with the Braves, he posted a 2.88 ERA and struck out 62 batters over 50 innings. For his career, he had 254 strikeouts in 211 innings, good for a 28.6% strikeout rate. Just as importantly, Walden’s addition allowed Carlos Martinez to compete with Marco Gonzalez for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.[11]

To obtain Heyward and Walden, the Cardinals were giving up a lot of young potential. Miller, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2009 (19th overall), had just completed his second full season in St. Louis. As a rookie in 2013, he went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA, striking out 169 batters over 173 1/3 innings. In his sophomore campaign in 2014, Miller went 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 183 innings.

“You never really know where this game is going to take you,” Miller said. “It’s hard leaving the good people and good teammates I had there. At the same time, they traded me for Heyward, an extremely talented outfielder, so it’s exciting to go to a team that wanted me. It’s a new opportunity.”[12]

Jenkins, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, had been the Cardinals’ 2010 first-round pick out of Henderson High School in Texas. He had spent the 2014 season in High-A Palm Beach, where he went 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 74 innings.

“The Braves have always been a pitching organization,” Hart said. “We have the makings of a quality young rotation.”[13]

As Miklasz wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was a steep – yet understandable – price for the Cardinals to pay.

“I’d like this trade a lot better if we knew that Heyward would stay in St. Louis beyond 2015,” Miklasz wrote. “But these are not normal times. The tragic death of right fielder Oscar Taveras put Mozeliak in an urgent – if not desperate – frame of mind. And in that context it isn’t surprising to see the GM take a substantial risk here. … Putting Heyward in place, if only for one season, provides a quick solution and give Mozeliak a better chance to determine exactly what the Cardinals have in Grichuk and corner-outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty. This move buys some time, but the cost is expensive.”[14]

After Heyward’s 2015 season in which he hit .293/.359/.439 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs for the Cardinals, he proved even more expensive, as the Cubs signed him to an eight-year, $184 million contract. Heyward said he was attracted by the Cubs’ young core, which included Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez. The Cubs had beaten the Cardinals in a four-game NLDS the previous fall.

“Being 26 and knowing my contract would probably put me in any clubhouse longer than most people there, you have to look at age, you have to look at how fast the team is changing and how soon those changes may come about,” he said. “You have (Yadier Molina), who is going to be done in two years maybe. You have Matt Holliday, who is probably going to be done soon. There were already moves with Jon Jay gone, and then Tony Cruz, and (Adam Wainwright) is probably going to be done in three or four years. … I felt like if I was to look up in three years and see a completely different team, that would kind of be difficult.”[15]

As compensation for Heyward, the Cardinals received the 34th overall pick in the 2016 draft and selected right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson from Mississippi State University.

Walden pitched one injury-plagued season in St. Louis. After allowing just one earned run in 10 1/3 innings, Walden suffered a shoulder injury and was placed on the disabled list on May 6. He never pitched in the majors again.

Miller had mixed results with the Braves in 2015. He posted a 3.02 ERA over 205 1/3 innings and was selected for the all-star game, but he also led the league with 17 losses. After the season, the Braves traded Miller and Gabe Speier to the Diamondbacks for Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte, and Dansby Swanson. Miller went 5-18 with a 6.35 ERA in three seasons in Arizona.

Jenkins spent the 2015 season in the Braves’ minor-league system. In 2016, he went 9-3 with a 2.47 ERA for Triple-A Gwinnett to earn a promotion to the majors, where he went 2-4 with a 5.88 ERA in 52 innings. That December, the Braves traded him and prospect Brady Feigl to the Rangers for Luke Jackson and was soon claimed off waivers by the Reds. The following month, the Padres claimed him off waivers. San Diego released him in July 2017, marking the end of his baseball career.


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player. You can also enter your email below to get new posts sent directly to your inbox!


[1] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[3] Jason Parks and Staff, “Prospects Will Break Your Heart: Top 101 Prospects,” Baseball Prospectus, January 27, 2014, https://www.baseballprospectus.com/prospects/article/22670/prospects-will-break-your-heart-top-101-prospects/.

[4] Jennifer Langosch, “Taveras ranks third among top 100 prospects,” MLB.com, January 23, 2014, https://www.mlb.com/news/oscar-taveras-of-st-louis-cardinals-third-in-top-100-prospect-rankings/c-66987862.

[5] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[6] Paul Newberry, “Atlanta to ‘move on’ without Heyward,” The Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2014.

[7] Paul Newberry, “Atlanta to ‘move on’ without Heyward,” The Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2014.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[9] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[10] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[11] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[12] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[13] Paul Newberry, “Atlanta to ‘move on’ without Heyward,” The Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2014.

[14] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards are taking a big risk, but they were forced into it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[15] Paul Sullivan, “A card-carrying Cub,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: