Those dreams of having either Giancarlo Stanton or Jason Heyward roaming the Dave Mellor-mowed grasses of Fenway Park's outfield next year appear to be firmly squashed. With the news coming down that Heyward is heading to the St. Louis Cardinals, two of the top outfielders on the trade market are no longer available..
The Braves announced early Monday afternoon that they traded away the young star outfielder alongside reliever Jordan Walden in exchange for starter Shelby Miller and righty Tyrell Jenkins. Pending a contract extension, Heyward finds himself in a place similar to Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, as both are scheduled to become free agents following the season.
The Heyward trade sets up potentially major implications for any hypothetical trade for Cespedes. While a big X factor in the Cardinals' acquisition is how confident John Mozeliak and company are in their ability to sign Heyward to an extension (something that seems a lot less likely with Cespedes given his recent switch to Jay-Z's Roc Nation), the Braves' acquisition of Miller and Jenkins represents a significant coup for an outfielder just a year away from free agency.
First, it's important to give context in regards to Heyward's value. Through the first five years of his career (ages 20 through 24), the 25-year-old has averaged 17 home runs, 58 RBIs, 25 doubles and three triples in 136 games while posting a batting line of .262/.351/.429 and providing Gold Glove defense in the outfield. Over his career, Heyward has posted 4.6, 2.0, 6.3, 3.4 and 5.1 wins above replacement (average of 4.2 WAR) respectively from year to year. Heyward ranked 11th among outfielders in Major League Baseball in wins above replacement. In weighted runs created plus (wRC+) according to FanGraphs, Heyward ranked 31st in all of baseball among outfielders with a 110 wRC+, indicating that his defense plays a major role in the determination of his WAR.
Unlike Heyward, Cespedes will likely head into free agency at the age of 30, which is an important factor to consider. Through the first three years of his career (ages 26 through 28), Cespedes has averaged 24 home runs, 87 RBIs, 27 doubles, five triples in 139 games while posting a batting line of .263/.316/.464. In 2014, Cespedes ranked 33 among outfielders in baseball with a 109 wRC+. Cespedes' wRC+ in 2014 suggests that he provides similar level of offensive production to Heyward.
Where Heyward separates himself from Cespedes is defense. Heyward posted the second highest ultimate zone rating (UZR) among outfielders in baseball at 24.1, trailing just Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals. Cespedes, on the other hand, had the 10th highest UZR among outfielders at 8.4. Heyward also had a defensive runs saved of 32 (best in baseball among outfielders) while Cespedes posted a DRS of 11 (11th in baseball among outfielders).
So while Heyward and Cespedes, sabermetrically speaking, bring similar value at the plate, the former's defensive prowess and youth likely gives him more value to any inquiring team that Cespedes. The Braves acquisition of Miller and Jenkins cannot be understated.
Cost-controlled pitching holds a lot of value and Miller is locked up for another four years. Miller is a former top prospect who has shown the ability, at times, to be a front-of-rotation starter. While he struggled at times in 2014 -- posting a 3.74 ERA, 4.54 FIP and 1.273 WHIP in 183.0 innings pitched over 32 games, 31 starts -- Miller is a former top-10 prospect in all of baseball and has the raw stuff to become a dominant pitcher at the major league level.
Tyrell Jenkins is a former top draft pick of the Cardinals, having been selected 50th overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He's an athletic pitcher who was once signed a letter of intent to play quarterback at Baylor University. While Jenkins has a raw, attractive arsenal (92-97 MPH, hard, sharp curveball and a plus two-seam fastball), he's had a hard time harnessing this arsenal during his time in the minor leagues so far in his professional career. Jenkins could turn out to be a valuable asset. He could also turn out to be a bust just as easily, it seems.
There is slightly more uncertainty on a number of levels with Cespedes. Heyward represented a player who would be signed without consideration of the draft pick given a potential qualifying offer. Cespedes is not viewed in the same way, given his age among other factors. The circumstances around the trade of Heyward also differs from the Red Sox' current situation. While the Braves realized that they weren't likely going to be able to extend Heyward, the Red Sox would likely trade Cespedes to relieve their overcrowded outfield situation in addition to providing slightly more financial flexibility for potential free agent signings.
The Braves, simply put, could not afford to lose Heyward for just a first-round draft pick and needed to stock up on young pitching to help jump start their build towards a playoff team. Cespedes somewhat represents a luxury for the Red Sox, a team that already has five players (Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Shane Victorino) that could potentially play significant roles in the outfield. According to a report from Rob Bradford of WEEI, the team hadn't even inquired on Heyward, indicating that they aren't intending to add to the already crowded group of personnel.
So while the Braves and Red Sox are in different spots in regards towards their build of a potential playoff team, the Heyward trade does indicate that there, indeed, is value out there on the trade market for an outfielder heading into free agency.