The Atlanta Braves are reportedly dangling a trio of outfielders on the trade market. But I am not so sure making a play for one of them would be what's best for the Cardinals.
Left fielder Justin Upton, right fielder Jayson Heyward and Evan Gattis, who is a catcher but is also capable of playing the outfield corners, are reported by ESPN to be on the trading block. Heyward, who is believed to be out of Atlanta's spending range, is said to be the most likely to go. And, on paper at least, he's the guy who best fits what the Cardinals need.
He plays right field, which is the open position in the Redbirds outfield. He's a a relatively consistent power hitter, which would give a spark to the middle of the St. Louis batting order. But there's a lot not to like about Heyward, too.
First, he's a lefty and the Cardinals are already vulnerable to southpaws with Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and Matt Adams already fixtures in the lineup.
Second, while he has still been pretty productive, his power has faded steadily over the past three years, bottoming out with a .384 slugging percentage and only 11 home runs in 2014 in 649 plate appearances. He's only hit 20 or more homers once in his five seasons.
Third, and most importantly, he's a free agent after this season and is expected to draw heavy bidding. ESPN Chicago suggests that the Chicago Cubs will go all in for Heyward in 2014.
Would it make a lot of sense for St. Louis to part with the young pitching the Braves want to rent Heyward for a year? It sounds like the flip side of the trade the Cardinals made with Atlanta a few years back when we allowed it to rent J.D. Drew for a year in exchange for Jason Marquis, Ray King and some kid named Adam Wainwright.
That trade is the stuff of legends in St. Louis. The Braves front office doesn't care to be reminded of it. Drew, a Georgia native, was expected to be an easy re-sign for Atlanta. But he chose, instead, to go to the highest bidder. The Result: Atlanta coughed up a significant piece of its future for virtually no return.
The Cardinals can't always count on the results it got from taking a chance on Matt Holliday and Mark McGwire. Those players were won over by playing in St. Louis and chose to sign long-term extensions instead of potentially collecting larger paydays elsewhere.
I'm not sure if the Redbirds would even expect to sign Heyward to an extension, however. It's not their reputation to pass out the sort of contracts he could reasonably expect: More than $20 million a year for six or more seasons.
Baltimore Orioles free agent Nelson Cruz has averaged 26 homers and a .517 slugging percentage over the last six seasons. He's a more productive player and, while his cost may be high on a seller's market, his contract will be much more affordable than what it will take to sign Heyward to an extension.
Cruz is 34 to Heyward's 26. But it doesn't matter if Heyward is 19 if the Cardinals couldn't re-sign him. If the Birds are going to part with quality young pitching to land outfield help, I'd rather see them spend their resources on Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp who is under contract for five years. Like Cruz, Kemp is righthanded. Like Heyward, he's young at 30.