Shelby Miller was, for almost all of his five years with the organization, on the short list of Cardinals’ prospects whose potential deemed him off limits to potential trade partners.
But the tragic off-season death of another untouchable prospect, slugger Oscar Taveras, left the stunned organization with a sudden need for an outfielder with a middle-of-the-lineup bat.
The Atlanta Braves offered Gold Glover Jason Heyward and Miller was their price. St. Louis General Manager John Mozeliak's hand was forced and the move was made.
Miller is back in St. Louis this weekend with the Braves and will get a start against his former teammates Saturday at 6:15 p.m.
"I've been with these guys for two years and I know them all real well. Some are friends I'll have forever," he said Friday from the visitors' dugout at Busch Stadium. "But at the end of the day I'm going out to pitch and try to get a win for the Braves. I'm not going to be thinking about best buddies in the batter's box."
Miller's 2.33 earned run average and league lead in shutouts were good enough to earn him a spot on the National League All-Star team. But he's gotten just five decisions in his last 11 starts, all of which were losses that dropped his record to 5-6.
The Braves will be counting on him to turn around a two-game losing streak that includes Friday night's 4-2 loss to the Cardinals. Atlanta has lost seven of its last 10 and have fallen six games below the .500 mark. The Braves trail the Washington Nationals in the N.L. East Division by six games.
The Cardinals will counter with rookie right-hander Carlos Martinez (10-4, 2.51 ERA), who will be making his first career start against the Braves.
Even without the emotion of facing his former teammates, Miller said he knows beating the Cardinals — who lead the Central Division by six games with the best record in baseball — will be a challenge.
"Obviously, they are still still good so it's not going to be easy going out. It's going to be a tough three-game series for sure," he said. "I can't believe we only have two more months of baseball in the regular season. We're still trying to make a playoff push in an obviously tough division with Washington and New York playing well. But we’re a young team and we believe we can make up some ground.”
A month into the season, it looked like Atlanta may have picked Mozeliak's pocket in its acquiring the Cardinals’ prized pitching prospect. Heyward hit just .217 with four RBIs in April, while Miller got off to the best start of his career at 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA.
But Heyward, a first-time free agent at the end of the season, has been red hot since batting .326 in June. He's raised his average to .283 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs to make the trade more equitable.
"I believe Jason Heyward has been everything advertised and then some," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. " I think he's done a great job for us. As far as that goes, it's been great for us and for Shelby.
“You want to see these guys have successful careers once you've invested into them. You know them as people, you know their stories, you know their families, you want to see them go out and do what they can do. He's been doing it."
Miller said he knew the Cardinals' off-season circumstances and persistent rumors made his eventual trade possible, but he was none-the-less rattled when he heard he was headed to Atlanta.
"I knew it was possible at that point, but nobody expects to wake up and get traded that exact day," he said. "At first it was a shock."
But the transition to his new team was made easier by a number of factors, Miller says. Not the least among them is the Braves' success over the last 20 years and the contact he has with pitching coach Roger McDowell and Hall-of-Fame pitchers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux.
"I was just lucky to come to an organization that has the same kind of tradition and does so well," Miller said. "I've had a lot of fun (with the Cardinals), but it's been an easy transition."
That doesn't mean Miller won't miss the Busch Stadium atmosphere or the organization that gave him his opportunity by picking him 19th overall in the 2009 draft. He says the mentoring he received from rotation veterans like Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook has been especially valuable.
"You soak up relationship with those guys pretty easily and you have to respect the year there have in the big leagues and the things they've done on and off the field," he said. "Those guys and others who have been a part of this organization are friends.
"You can't take anything away from the time I had here, who I played with who I worked with. There are guys throughout the farm system as well. It's a great place to play."