In December 2003, the St. Louis Cardinals had an outfielder who had not reached his full potential. He was a year away from free agency, and the Cardinals did not want to lose J.D. Drew for nothing.
So they traded Drew to Atlanta for three pitchers -- two young starters and a reliever. Drew had his best season for the Braves in 2004 and then left for a contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers the Braves never could have matched.
Jason Marquis was the first young starter Atlanta traded. He was 24 years old at the time and had limited success with the Braves. Marquis went 42-37 in three years with the Cardinals. Now 36 and still pitching, Marquis has won 124 games in a successful big league career with nine different teams.
Adam Wainwright was the other young pitcher. He had just finished Double-A for the Braves and was only 22 when he was traded. Wainwright was a Georgia product and was Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2000.
We all know what happened. Wainwright has become a star. He’s 121-67 in his 10 years with the Cardinals. A ruptured Achilles’ tendon a few weeks ago has knocked Wainwright out for the rest of this season, but he has long since proved how great of a pitcher he is and how bad a trade it was for the Braves.
The irony of what happened in November is scary. The Braves had an outfielder, who like Drew had not really reached his full potential. Jason Heyward was also a year away from free agency, and the Braves had no confidence he would re-sign for the long-term.
So they traded Heyward, which was mostly an unpopular move. He was a hometown player, and there’s no denying Heyward had a lot of fans. But the Braves wanted some young pitching in return, just like the Cardinals did 11 years earlier.
To think the Braves traded Heyward (and a reliever) to St. Louis for two young pitchers is downright funny. And to think one of those pitchers is showing signs of being Adam Wainwright-like is, well, just appropriate, isn’t it?
Shelby Miller has been outstanding in his first nine starts with the Braves. He was solid again Saturday and has an ERA of 1.50. Miller just missed a no-hitter May 17, and right now, he’s likely the leading candidate to start the All-Star game in six weeks.
Tyrell Jenkins was the other young pitcher acquired by Atlanta. He’s at Double-A Mississippi and has been equally impressive. Jenkins has a 2.94 ERA in his first nine starts, and the Braves seem confident they have a solid pitching prospect who could be ready perhaps next summer.
But Miller is clearly the prize here. After years of not having a true ace, the Braves might have found one. Miller has outstanding stuff, a good pitcher’s body and is now gaining confidence with his success. Plus, he’s only 24 and the Braves have him under control through the 2018 season.
It’s unfair to believe Miller can become as good as Wainwright, but the pieces are definitely there. Even Saturday against Milwaukee, when Miller didn’t have his best stuff, he was able to have a decent start. That’s what great pitchers do. Analysts have long predicted stardom for Miller, and we are seeing it play out now.
Heyward is struggling in St. Louis. He has hit only .238 through the first quarter of the season. But regardless of what Heyward is doing, the success of Miller and Jenkins has this trade squarely in Atlanta’s favor thus far.
And considering what happened with the Wainwright trade, well, who will complain about that?
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