Free agency has progressed slowly this winter. Some of the biggest signings to date have been starting pitchers with late-season breakouts (Rich Hill, J.A. Happ). The markets for several of the flashiest names available have yet to develop, and that’s especially true of Jason Heyward.
The Angels have been mentioned once on these pages as a possible match. Earlier this week, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports said the Angels “aren’t ruling out a pursuit.” So that’s maybe, possibly one public suitor.
Every other Heyward rumor relates to his former Cardinals. While he fits their playing style to a T, Heyward isn’t exactly needed. The St. Louis roster features veterans Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss. Randal Grichuk is an exciting young center fielder with big power and plus defense. Stephen Piscotty made a successful late season debut. Some combination of Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay, and Tommy Pham can fill in the cracks.
Sure, Heyward is an improvement over some of those options, but is his production enough to justify the $200MM investment predicted by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes? I don’t think so. The team does have a need in the rotation with Lance Lynn out for the season and top prospect Alex Reyes suspended 50 games for marijuana use. It might be smart to use monetary resources on pitching.
In his free agent profile, Jeff Todd agreed with Dierkes 10-year, $200MM valuation, saying “It’s hard to put Heyward in the same production bracket as Robinson Cano (ten years, $240MM), and you could argue that he’s not as valuable a free agent as Prince Fielder (nine years, $214MM), depending upon how one values defense and baserunning.” Then again, you can also argue that Heyward, 26, offers more future value than Cano or Fielder did at the time of their signings. When they inked their respective deals, Cano was entering his age 31 season while Fielder was set to turn 28.
It used to be that $200MM really limited a player’s market to just a few teams. In today’s cash rich environment, any team can compete for a top free agent. While it wasn’t a free agent signing, the always penurious Marlins actually own the richest contract in major league history (Giancarlo Stanton). Heyward, therefore, is a relatively affordable, young asset. Clearly, his market won’t be constrained to a team that doesn’t need him and another that isn’t “ruling out a pursuit.”
MLB.com’s Dan O’Dowd offers two more alternatives – the Dodgers and Orioles. His justifications? The Dodgers have the cash, and Heyward would add athleticism over incumbent Andre Ethier. With the Orioles, a run at Heyward would likely depend upon the club falling short on re-signing Chris Davis. O’Dowd also likes how Heyward would fit into the Angels lineup.
Let’s explore some other possible fits for Heyward.
The Yankees are always a safe bet to be involved with a player like Heyward. They’re said to be shopping Brett Gardner, possibly to make room for a Heyward pursuit. His left-handed bat and athleticism in the outfield would play awfully well at Yankee Stadium.
New York’s rivals, the Red Sox, are a dark horse candidate. The club is much more fixated on pitching, and they’re currently rich in outfielders. If their pursuit of David Price goes sideways, Boston could try to use some of their outfield depth to acquire star pitching. The would open a role for Heyward.
After attempting to contend in 2015, it’s hard to gauge the White Sox plans. They’ll try again to build around Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, but will they commit more resources to the effort? Across town, the Cubs could benefit from an OBP oriented veteran like Heyward to help support the various young phenoms. They’re supposedly more focused on pitching.
The Phillies could technically afford to sign Heyward. Their only payroll commitment beyond 2017 is a $2MM buyout on Matt Harrison. With their ability to financially bully the other NL East clubs, I expect Philadelphia to rebound quickly from their current nightmare. But this offseason might be one too soon for a forward thinking free agent signing of this magnitude. And it might be difficult to convince Heyward to ink with a rebuilding club.
The Mariners and Giants are the other two clubs I could foresee entering the bidding. Seattle is keen to become more athletic under new GM Jerry Dipoto. After signing Cano and Nelson Cruz in recent offseasons, I’m not sure they could stomach the price tag.
San Francisco is a rich market club that likes to play quietly in free agency. The team has plenty of outfielders, but only Hunter Pence stands out as name brand talent.
So where do you think Heyward will land? Is it one of these teams or somebody completely off the radar?