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Cardinals acquire Jason Heyward: Keeping tabs on the NL Central

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The Cardinals needed a right fielder. They found their man in a former number-one prospect.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, the Cardinals made a trade that pretty clearly strengthens their team. St. Louis acquired right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden from the Atlanta Braves, giving up Shelby Miller and a middle-of-the-road pitching prospect.

Through this deal, the Cardinals have found a very good player to improve their outfield after the unfortunate death of Oscar Taveras while dealing from a position where they had a surplus of talented players. For 2015, St. Louis is clearly looking more talented than they did yesterday.

And yet, I'm strangely pretty alright overall with the Cardinals pulling this off. The Brewer fan in me should probably be upset at a division rival improving, but I think that St. Louis could have done better for themselves.

Part of my inner-peace with this trade is the fact that the Cardinals were expected to search pretty heavily for an improvement in right field and, with plenty of tradeable assets, were likely to find a pretty good one. Knowing that, I think that St. Louis could have done better than Jason Heyward.

That's not to say Heyward isn't talented or that I'm looking forward to having him in the division at all. Formerly the number one prospect in all baseball, Heyward has had a nice career thus far. Nice, not great. Over the past two years, he's hit .264/.351/.401 with 25 homers in 253 games. That's a piece of the puzzle, but not a difference-maker. That said, Heyward just turned 25 years old in August and has his peak years ahead of him.

However, those peak years after 2015 might not even be with the Cardinals. Heyward is in a great place as a player where he is set to become a free agent following next season when he is just 26 years old. Barring a terrible season, teams will be lining up for the chance to sign him. His youth will definitely add to the value of a contract in free agency, and Heyward and his representation are surely itching at the bit to see how much they can get. The Cardinals have money, but to sign him to an extension will mean they'll need to pony up a huge chunk of cash to keep him from testing the market.

And for one year of Heyward, the Cardinals have given up four years of Shelby Miller, who also was a former top-5 prospect nationwide. In two full seasons, Miller has made 62 starts and one relief appearance, racking up a 3.41 ERA, a 7.5 K/9 and a 3.3 BB/9. His peripherals have his FIP at 4.12, but as a young pitcher he has already showed nice poise on the mound. Like Heyward, Miller still has his best years ahead of him as he just turned 24. Miller won't even be eligible for arbitration until after 2015.

The Cardinals had seemed to sour on Miller a bit over the past year, and it's undeniable that they do have a surplus of pitching. Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha will likely be the starting rotation, with former top prospect Carlos Martinez ready to fill in if needed. Even with that depth, the Cardinals may regret giving up Miller -- in 2014 they were forced to trade for Lackey and Justin Masterson due to injuries and ineffectiveness in what had been a deep rotation.

Of course, the Cardinals also received Jordan Walden in the deal to strengthen their bullpen. That's not insignificant. The 27-year-old Walden had the best season of his career last year, posting a 2.88 ERA and 11.2 K/9 in 58 appearances for the Braves. He shouldn't be considered a bullpen ace, but St. Louis is better with him.

So, all in all, the Cardinals got better. That's a bummer, naturally. But we could have pretty much assumed the Cardinals would have gotten better in right field in some way this off season. Given that context and what the Cardinals had to part with, I'm pretty OK with them making this trade.

The NL Central was already looking pretty tough for 2015. The Cubs are no longer pitiful, the Reds are still strong, A.J. Burnett is back with the Pirates, the Cardinals found their right fielder and the Brewers have an honest-to-goodness first baseman. Next year is looking like it could be a lot of fun.