The news broke early this afternoon. Jason Heyward will be the newest member of the Chicago Cubs. Reports are that he turned down a pair of offers expected to have been around $200 million over 10 years from both St. Louis and Washington to accept an 8 year, $184 million deal with the Cubs with a pair of opt out clauses. Those opt out clauses come at the end of the third and fourth years of the deal, so he could see free agency again as a 29 or 30 year old player.
While many have chosen to take the angle that he took “less money” to join the Cubs–while technically true–he really didn’t. While the offers from St. Louis and Washington would have paid Heyward roughly $20 million a year, the deal with the Cubs will play him an average yearly value of $23 million and that opt out can easily be worth quite a bit of money. Zack Greinke turned his opt out into an additional $10 million a year over the deal he signed just three years ago.
The move looks to be a huge win for Theo Epstein and the Cubs, who have now taken the Cardinals’ top two WAR players and added them to their own roster. Heyward was worth 6.5 WAR last year, while Lackey was worth 5.6 WAR. The third place Cardinal was Matt Carpenter who accumulated 3.9 WAR
Even though Heyward’s deal with the Cubs is two years shorter than the Cardinals’ offer, Heyward took the deal that paid him more per year and sets himself up for a run to make even more money three to four years from now. Even if he stays in Chicago for the length of the deal, at age 34, Heyward should be able to easily recoup the $16 million he turned down to accept the Cubs’ offer.
He’s also hit exceptionally well in Wrigley Field for his career.
For the Cardinals, they now have a couple concerns. The first being that they still need to add an offensive piece to their lineup (and a starting pitcher too). Reports say that they are centering their approach on former Kansas City Royal Alex Gordon.
I identified Gordon as a good Plan B option for the Cardinals earlier this winter. He is a very similar player to Heyward, but trades less speed for more power. He is also a whiz defensively, which is good because that should make the move to right field easier.
I also believe that Gordon is a better fit for the Cardinals because, at age 31, he requires less of a long term commitment. It’s been projected that he’ll get a contract just over $100 million for 5 years. It’s basically the back half of Heyward’s contract.
He may also be a better fit because he fits what the Cardinals do offensively better. As fast as Heyward may be, his speed wasn’t going to be utilized in St. Louis under Mike Matheny.
The second concern in all this is John Mozeliak’s ability to close in a crowded free agent market.
I can think of four big free agents that the Cardinals have seriously pursued over the last five years. Three of them were this winter and Mozeliak has struck out on all four.
Yes, we did end up on the positive side of missing out on Albert Pujols, but the notion still stands. When the Cardinals have found themselves in a competition to sign a player at the top of the free agent market, they lose. Which is a curious place for the best run organization in baseball to be.
In an offseason where the organization bragged about having money to spend and very clearly marking Jason Heyward as the #1 priority, they failed. Mozeliak failed.
The difference between the Cardinals’ reported offer and the Cubs’ reported offer is very tangible. The Cardinals were asking Heyward to give up the potential raise he could earn after an opt out clause and asking him to give them two extra years at $8 million a year. Based on average annual value alone, Heyward will make $24 million more in those 8 years with the Cubs versus the first 8 years with the Cardinals. I wouldn’t have accepted the Cardinals’ offer either.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the Cardinals didn’t offer an opt out clause and I hope it’s indicative of a franchise rule going forward because I hate the very essence of opt outs. It only benefits the player. But to seemingly misread a player’s contract desires that severely? I found it concerning.
Doubly so because of all the players the Cardinals could have pursued while Heyward decided. For Mozeliak’s sake, he better get a couple good deals done soon or things are primed to get ugly pretty fast no matter how successful the young players continue to be.