The Cubs and Dodgers didn’t make a trade this offseason, but a series of transactions effectively added up to one. Here’s what I mean.
- August of 2022: Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer announces they will release Jason Heyward at the end of the season.
- November of 2022: Heyward officially released.
- November of 2022: Cody Bellinger is non-tendered by the Dodgers.
- December of 2022: Cubs sign Bellinger to one-year deal.
- December of 2022: Dodgers sign Heyward to a minor league deal.
Both clubs had a long-tenured outfielder that was posting disappointing results. In both cases, they could have kept the player for one more year. Heyward still had one season left on his contract while Bellinger still had one arbitration season remaining. But in both cases, the club decided to cut bait, then swooped in to collect the other team’s castoff.
Now each club is going to be trying to coax a bounceback season from their respective new outfielder. In a vacuum, the Cubs are more likely to succeed. Bellinger has struggled over the past two years, producing a dismal .165/.240/.302 batting line in 2021 and then a subpar .210/.265/.389 slash last year. However, he was above average in 2020 and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2019. He launched 47 home runs in that MVP season while hitting .305/.406/.629 for a wRC+ of 161. He also stole 15 bases and was graded well for his defensive work, being deemed to be worth 7.7 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs.
Heyward, on the other hand, has never really touched that kind of ceiling, and certainly not recently. He had a strong showing at the plate in 2020 but hasn’t been an above average hitter in a full season since 2015. He hit .293/.359/.439 for the Cardinals that year, leading to a 121 wRC+. He also stole 23 bases and was strong in the field, leading to a 5.6 fWAR tally. However, he’s been well below that type of production since then, including being below replacement level last year.
Bellinger was himself below replacement level in 2021, but that was at least partly caused by shoulder issues. Both players have struggled in recent years but Bellinger was an MVP not too long ago. Heyward has never been on that tier and hasn’t been close in almost a decade. Bellinger also plays the more premier position, as he figures to be the Cubs’ everyday center fielder. Heyward has played center on occasion but has primarily been a right fielder in his career. Given that Bellinger is only 27 years old and Heyward is 33, the likelihood of a return to form would seem to be stronger with Bellinger.
The Cubs seem to have backed the horse more likely to end up in the winner’s circle, but they also have way more on the line. Heyward still had $22MM left on his deal when he was released and the Cubs are still on the hook for that. Assuming he is eventually added to the Dodgers’ roster, they will only be responsible for paying him the prorated league minimum, with that amount subtracted from what the Cubs pay.
Bellinger, on the other hand, isn’t owed anything by the Dodgers since they didn’t tender him a contract for this year. The Cubs brought him aboard by guaranteeing him $17.5MM, in the form of a $12.5MM salary and $5MM buyout on a mutual option for 2024. That means that the Cubs are paying the salaries of both players, with the figures combining to be worth almost $40MM. The Dodgers aren’t really committed to either player right now and won’t even be paying meaningful money if Heyward does make the team.
Heyward’s chances of cracking the roster seem to have increased lately. With Gavin Lux potentially out for the entire season, it seems that Chris Taylor will be spending more time on the infield and less in the outfield. That subtracts from the club’s outfield depth a bit, perhaps increasing the need for a non-roster invitee like Heyward.
There’s also a bit of positive buzz around Heyward in spring so far. Last month, Freddie Freeman told reporters, including Alden González of ESPN, that Heyward had altered his stance and “might have unlocked something.” Heyward has four hits in ten at-bats so far this spring, including a pair of home runs. A few good spring games don’t mean much and it’s dangerous to draw meaningful conclusions from them, but it’s nonetheless encouraging, especially given the club’s penchant for helping journeymen find the best versions of themselves. Jon Heyman of the New York Post wrote last week that Heyward is impressing L.A. officials and expected to make the team.
Again, this isn’t to get carried away. The season hasn’t even begun and a few good spring games shouldn’t make us forget about Heyward’s past six full seasons. It’s entirely possible that he continues to disappoint and this hot spring eventually becomes a footnote. But the Dodgers have little to lose in that case. It might be a bit embarrassing if Bellinger returns to form after they let him go for nothing. But at least they saved his salary, which was projected to be $18.1MM by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. They were then able to redirect that money into players like Noah Syndergaard and J.D. Martinez, who will cost $23MM combined this year.
The Cubs are perhaps facing a much more cringeworthy worst-case scenario. There is some non-zero chance that they have to watch Heyward thrive in Los Angeles while Bellinger struggles in Chicago, as they pay the salaries of both players. Time will tell whether that scenario is likely or not, but the Cubs have almost forty million reasons to hope it doesn’t come true.
I feel that both teams made the right decision in releasing their respective players. Both can be backed with plenty of stats and multiple chances to improve. While it would sting if they play better elsewhere, gotta still think there is some “good riddance” among the fans at least.
While there are certain similarities, Heyward’s contract was much more detrimental to the Cubs than Bellinger’s was to the Dodgers. The Dodgers basically have nothing to lose. The Cubs paid top dollar for Bellinger. This article is at best, a reach.
@rondon The title of the article says that they are in different positions. I’m not sure what you were expecting.
It seems rondon might’ve “reached” on calling the article a reach. Bellinger’s projected salary was a problem for the Dodgers. Opining that Belli’s contract was detrimental is inaccurate as Belli was not offered a contract by the LAD (as the article states).
Reading throughly before scrolling can sometimes pose a challenge.
Freeman says Heyward has unlocked something this spring
Yeah I bet he has…. Unlocked the cabinet in the Dodger clubhouse where they keep the PEDs
Never seen more mediocre players head to LA only to become hitting machines. It’s all just a coincidence though, right?
Haters going to hate
mj-2’s comment is a lot like another user known as mj. Their comments are so illogical, one wonders if the user is doing some sort of parody.
Yeah Heyward’s unlocked something , Found something, Figured something out Here in Chicago we’ve heard it every year. unfortunately the only thing he’s figured out was being a nice guy doesn’t exempt you from being bad at baseball. Bellinger is a much better gamble to me. Heywards a really nice guy and I wish him the best, I wouldn’t expect much LA. All I’d expect is a lot of ground outs to 2nd base.
As a Cubs fan, I always like Heyward more than most. It’s really sad that we’ll be paying his salary this season while he’s elsewhere. Bellinger is the better player and should start for the Cubs until they inevitably have to sell in July, but they significantly overpaid for his services in a year that they’re not likely to sniff .500. Heyward probably shouldn’t make the Dodgers, or if he does it might only be because of injuries. I still think Heyward is a better all around player than some guys the Cubs signed this offseason like Hosmer and Mancini.
The Cubs are only on the hook for the league minimum for Hosmer, so there is no possible chance they lose in that deal. Mancini is very affordable at $7M /year. Having both of those guys for that cheap is a reason why they can afford to be on the hook for $22M. Plus, both Mancini and Hosmer have a chance to be flipped for organizational depth before the trade deadline. It really is a no lose, win/win proposition for the Cubs.
Win/ win??? When your team is gonna do nuthin but lose. You have a great outlook on your team. Lol, no lose for the Cubs. You funny.
Tell me about all the success stories the Cubs hitting coaches have had? Since their gonna fix Belli? Please tell?
18 mil is an expensive look. Unless your planning on losing and it don’t matter.
Cubs are doing a good job at building roster and prospect depth with tons of payroll flexibility. We will see how this year plays out but it should be a fun team to watch.
I’m with you as far as liking Heyward more than most but I’d put his chances of out performing Hosmer, Mancini or Bellinger at less than 20%.
Heyward hasn’t had a bat in years, his defensive value is tied to right field and even that has slipped off. As a center fielder, his sub par on both sides of the ball.
I liked Heyward, really do not think we win a World Series without his defensive skills in 2016 but I like Mancini more as a DH, heyward cannot play first and Wisdom had more value as a bench bat. I’d rather see Davis earn a crack at the roster or Morel given a fair shake at earning a fourth outfield spot.
Yeah, you’re not a Cubs fan. You saying that the Cubs are not likely to sniff .500 means you’re either a troll or really ignorant. They are improved a lot from last season and they weren’t that far off from .500 then.
Please list the players they upgraded compared to last year’s roster that gives you the confidence to write “improved a lot.” I want to make sure I didn’t miss something.
Dansby Swanson/Nico Hoerner up the middle is a big upgrade over Nico Hoerner/Nick Madrigal & David Bote. Cody Bellinger in CF is an upgrade over Rafael Ortega. Trey Mancini/Eric Hosmer at 1B/DH is better than Frank Schwindell/Alfonso Rivas. They added Jameson Taillon in the rotation and Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger to the bullpen. They took a step back offensively at catcher by losing Contreras, but are better on defense with Barnhart/Gomes.
It’s also possible some of the prospects make an impact at some point.
They won 74 games last season and would need to win 7 more in order to be .500 (81-81). It’s honestly not that unrealistic…
The difference is Bellinger offers exponentially more upside if finally healthy and the Cubs hitting coaches are able to fix his swing. If the Dodgers are carrying Heyward for any length of time it just shows that their vaulted depth is nothing like it used to be
I’m guessing Heyward has a higher WAR than Bellinger this year.
If the Dodgers end up carrying him for any length of time it will be because he’s playing really well and deserves it. Otherwise they’ll immediately bring up Outman, or, in a les favorable scenario, Zimmer or Pages
If the Dodgers end up carrying him for any length of time it will be because he’s playing really well and deserves it. Otherwise they’ll immediately bring up Outman, or, in a less favorable scenario, Zimmer or Pages. Not the same depth the Dodgers used to have but if I had to pick between Dodgers or Cubs OF depth I’d pick the Dodgers.
The Cubs outfield depth is far better than the Dodgers.
It wasn’t his health last year. It was the swing and miss on both high fastballs AND low inside sliders. Two out pitches = 210.
Maybe a fresh set of eyes looking at his swing can get him back on track because everyone else can see the hole in his swing but Robert Van Scoyoc and the Dodgers
I was watching a Dodger game in 2021 on either Fox or ESPN. They compared video of Bellinger from that season and his MVP season. The difference in how far from the plate the ball was when Bellinger started his swing was enormous. Basically, they were saying he was chronically late on the FB. They didn’t cite a cause, and I don’t know if it was a case lack of recognition, or what. But it surprised me that it was something he and the coaches should have been aware of, and yet couldn’t seem to fix.
Do you mean if Bellinger hits like he did 5 years ago that he’ll be exponentially better than if Heyward hits like he did 8 years ago?
I hope Heyward has a good year. Such a good dude. I think both Belli and Mancini are gonna have great years. Cubs are gonna do more than sniff 500..they are gonna win around 87 games.
theyll sniff it. unless they have good injury luck their pitching depth will be absolutely tested this year, and a lot of guys in their lineup look fluky and need to prove themselves. other than happ, there arent any been-able-to-stay-healthy/put-it-all-together type hitters. a lot could go right, but it all needs to go right for them to hit 87 wins. i see that as around their ceiling, but doubt their ability to hit 90 and expect them much closer to 80
Play the Game
Another difference is $18 million
The Cubs are paying for both of them. I was surprised at how much they paid for Bellinger.
Halos, remember, the Cubs only need Belli for one year. And Belli needs the Cubs for playing time to build up his value. It was a good fit, for both.
I got the fit. Just not the price tag.
Somebody was going to pay him at least that much. If you wanted Bellinger that was the cost. Works for me until it doesn’t. I’d rather look first and complain later if I have to.
Blah blah blah
If you wanna know how the Cubs are doing, they are paying $40 million to baseballs two worst hitters by measure of wrc+ from 2021-2022. Yup. Ranked last and second to last. Among all qualifiers.
Stupid saying but “mic drop”.
Cubs are paying 40 million. Dodgers are paying the ML minimum. I’ll bet the Dodgers end up on the better end.
If your interest is counting the team’s dollars for them, I guess. As a fan I respond to the proposition quite differently.
I was surprised reds and cubs didn’t make a bad contract swap with Cincinnati sending Mike moustakes to Chicago for Jason Hayward. Money would have been about the same with moustakes playing 3rd base and Heyward playing right field. Instead you dump both players and pay them to play somewhere else.
In effect a trade of a fake leader for a fake MVP.
This might be the most accurate take out of them all. Everyone I’ve talked to has said the “J-Hey was the leader” thing is a bit of a myth. The names I heard praised were David Ross, Ben Zobrist, Eric Hinske, and even Manny Ramirez & Matt Murton working with the boys in the minors getting them ready. Both Baez & Contreras gave heavy credit to the two of them working on their hitting and getting them confortable. I think the Heyward speech was an impromptu thing that got blown up in order to take the heat off of Jason for the fact the Cubs won in spite of him. Yes his D was an asset, but I get the feeling that had Schwarber not gotten injured, the final months of that season would’ve seen an OF configuration of Schwarber / Fowler / Zobrist from left-to-right. Heyward, the big FA signing, would’ve gotten squeezed out of playing time only a year in to his deal.
Nobody, Including Zobrist, Wanted to see him playing in RF. Nobody.
Chances are slim Heyward turns it around, as a Braves fan I’m rooting for him. He was a solid player for us never great but good and I like rooting for the older guys. The cards should have picked him up he hit better for them than he ever did for the Braves
Yeah, but he was in a contract year that year. I hated the Heyward signing the moment it happened. I was told by everyone that basically Heyward was “can’t miss” based on all metric data available. I always knew it was a mirage. I have witnesses. I told all fans & family then…. I hated the signing. I’d of rather had Murton on a minor league deal getting called up, ride it out, then trade for someone in July for the final push.
The Cardinals tried to sign him. He signed with the Cubs for less than the Cardinals offered for the same number of years. If I remember correctly, St. Louis offered him over $200 million, but he accepted instead the Cubs offer for about $20 million less.
As a Dodgers fan, I really like Cody. Great defender and can sometimes catch lightning in a bottle. However, I have been watching baseball my entire life and could tell, even during his MVP season, his hitting will likely never be above average. The first half of that season, he held steady in the box and didn’t have any bat movement. He looked locked in for 3-4 months, it was unbelievable. Once pitchers adjusted, something happened and ever since it’s almost as if no one sat him down and showed him how in control he used to be in box. Since then, he has looked like a feral cat in the batters box- cagey, anxious, no confidence. He sincerely is a great dude and a joy to watch on defense. I really hope he figures it out but nothing he has done since that one magical 1/2 season has convinced me he will get it turned around.
Dumpster Divin Theo
$40 million. Your Rickettsville Marquee network tax dollars at work
Speaking of cringeworthy scenarios, the Dodgers could watch Bellinger rebound in Chicago, have to cut Heyward, and find themselves coming up short in the outfield. The results on the field have strangely little to do with the money either team invested in their gambles.
Let me put it this way – if Bradley Zimmer makes the team it’s a way bigger testimonial about the Dodgers’ true lack of organizational depth than if Heyward makes the cut. Zimmer might as well not even take a bat to the plate, and that’s always been the case. At least Heyward could hit once upon a time.
Sure. I don’t normally think much about non-roster invitees because the vast majority of them get cut, as I would expect Zimmer to be, and in terms of depth, Pages and Outman are probably both well ahead of him. So that raises the question of why a no-hope like Zimmer was even invited to camp. What I’m saying is, turning these choices into pure dollars propositions is missing the baseball point. It’s a bit like choosing to go into a restaurant because it’s cheap even though you know the food is inedible. If you’re going to walk out just as hungry as when you walked in, what did you gain?
40 mil is a drop in the bucket if Belli works out. Even if Heyward works out he wouldn’t have for us. Both need a change of scenery.
Heyward owe you money or something? Sheesh, lot of hate!
The big question is why would SF qualify Joc Pederson at $19.6 mil just to hit righties!