Where’s Jason headed?

Last week I went through all the reasons why giving Jason Heyward $200 million is not the same as giving $200 million to Albert Pujols 4 years ago.  It’s interesting that, 4 years ago, there weren’t that many teams in the market for Pujols.  It appeared to be between the Cardinals and the Marlins (was he really going to Miami?) until the Angels got involved.  Part of that, probably, is that it seemed to be somewhat of a forgone conclusion that he wasn’t going to be leaving St. Louis, but a lot of it also had to be all the things we discussed last week — his age, his history of injuries, the fact that he was basically only going to be able to provide value with his bat and, of course, his contract.  I imagine that Heyward, on the other hand, will have many suitors.

This week I want to explore which teams will be attempting to compete with the Cardinals for the honor of paying him roughly $200 million over the next 10 years — the contract Jeff Todd at mlbtraderumors expects Heyward to receive.  (For my part, I’m going with 9/$190 + an opt-out clause after 4 or 5 years.)

After the Cubs’ series ended, Jennifer Langosch reported that “re-signing Heyward tops the Cards’ to-do list.”  Heyward, in that same article, is quoted as saying of the Cardinals, “This is definitely an ideal situation.”  It’s clear that there’s mutual interest in Heyward making St. Louis his home for the next several years.  The question, then, is about the money.  Can we make it work?

The Cardinals don’t really have a history of spending on the biggest free agent out there. It’s not really our style.  The last time the team did that, however, was a situation very similar to this one.  The team traded for an outfielder on the verge of becoming a free agent, let him play for a while with the birds on his bat, and then signed him that offseason.  That player, of course, was Matt Holliday and this was two years prior to Pujols becoming a free agent.  It’s clear that the team signed Holliday with the intention of him becoming the team’s leader and star player if/when Pujols left.

So here we are, 6 years later, one year before Holliday’s contract ends, and the team is trying to decide how much to offer Heyward.  Like Pujols then, Holliday is the team’s highest paid player (at least in total contract value; Wainwright earns more per year) and he’ll be a free agent at the end of 2016 though the team does hold a $17 million option on 2017.  It’s clear that Holliday won’t sign another long-term contract, though there’s been some discussion on both sides of a shorter extension with the team.  Holliday is no longer the team’s star player and, after his contract expires, won’t be the team’s highest paid player even if he does sign an extension.  It’s time to pass the torch.

Though the team has never gone higher than $120 million in total value on a contract for any player, it did offer Pujols more than $200 million when he left for the Angels so it’s not like the team is unwilling to put this much money on the table.  They just know that it has to be for the right player.  The team also, as Derrick Goold has pointed out, has never included an opt-out in any contract that they’ve signed.  But, according to Goold, they’re “open to the possibility.”  It will certainly take one in order to get Heyward to return.  They’ve done no-trade clauses before, as well.  Holliday has one.  So though all of this is rare for the team, none of it seems to be unworkable.

The team also, as I pointed out last week, should expect a huge increase in revenues when the new TV deal kicks in in a couple of years.  Playoff revenue also helps, of course. Moreover, though several of their younger players will see big increases in their salaries as they become eligible for arbitration and the team extends some, Holliday’s big salary comes off the books in 2016 (’17 if the option is picked up), Molina’s comes off the books in 2017 (’18 if his option is picked up), Peralta’s comes off the books in 2017, and Wainwright’s comes off the books in 2018.  So while a big increase to Heyward’s salary will tighten the team’s budget for a couple of years (he made $7.8 million last year), that won’t cripple the team’s long-term future at all.

Still, there will be many suitors for Heyward due to his youth and potential, and his ability to help his team in so many ways.  There are several big-budget teams  who could be interested and might out-bid the Cardinals if they want to.  All in all, I’d put the team’s chance to re-sign Heyward at around 20%.

So let’s look at some of the others.

First of all, who can we eliminate?  Some teams just have no shot either because they don’t have $200 million to throw at one player, they have so many needs that they’re not going to be willing to put it all into a right fielder, or they’re not likely to have $200 million worth of appreciation for a position player whose value comes largely from getting on base, playing defense, and running the bases and doesn’t hit 25-30 HR or more per year.  I’ll put the Blue Jays, Royals, D’backs, Pirates, Mets, Indians, Tigers, Rays, Reds, Marlins, A’s, Padres, Braves, Twins, Brewers, Rockies, and Phillies in that category.  Some of these teams are quite good, of course, but they have needs other than a RF so Heyward’s not a fit.  The Mets, I imagine, will go all-out to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes and, if they can’t do that, they’ll go another route.  They could use another outfielder if Cespedes leaves, but their money issues and holes at SS and 2B (if David Murphy leaves, as expected) will probably preclude them from spending a huge chunk on Heyward.

So who’s left?  The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers, Orioles, and White Sox.  First, Orioles — 1%, about equal to the Mets.  They have a lot of revenue but many needs and have never shown any desire to spend $200 million on anyone.  Moreover, they seem to regret letting Nelson Cruz leave as a free agent.  Heyward is like the anti-Nelson Cruz.

Red Sox — 1%.  I don’t want to say “no chance” because they’re the Red Sox but they have plenty of outfielders (well, plenty minus 1 with Hanley Ramirez moving to 1B) and are woefully short of pitching.  They’ll spend their $200 million on David Price.

Nationals — 1%.  The Nats are going to need quite a bit of help with Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman becoming free agents, Stephen Strasburg becoming a free agent after next season, and Bryce Harper becoming a free agent the year after.  They’re long shots, at best, here.

Rangers — 2%.  They’ve got Choo and Fielder locked up and have a pretty desperate need for pitching even with Yu Darvish returning next year but they’re paying Josh Hamilton nothing, don’t need to play him at all, and have a pretty good revenue stream.  Adrian Beltre’s not getting any younger so they could use a little youth and maybe no team in baseball is better equipped to take advantage of any power surge Heyward might have as he gets into his prime.  I’d be surprised, but not shocked.

White Sox — 2%.  The White Sox have holes everywhere, the financial ability to make a big splash, and could really use a star like Heyward in their lineup and in the field (by UZR they were the worst defensive team in the majors last year).  On the other hand, they’re terrible.  They have holes everywhere and, while Heyward could help them a ton, he alone won’t make this team a playoff team.  A 76 win team who finished 19 games out of first in 2015 with Jeff Samardzija, they’re going to have to blow every other team’s offer out of the water in order to get Heyward to sign with them and I just don’t see that happening.

Angels — 2%.  Who knows?  They’ve got the financial wherewithal, but they’re already paying Pujols $25 million per year, they’re paying Mike Trout nearly $25 million per year, and they’re paying Josh Hamilton nearly $25 million per year to play for the Rangers.  Still, they were 18th in the majors in position player WAR and 19th in pitcher WAR so they could definitely use a guy like Heyward.  Even so, I see them having too many holes and too much money tied up in single players to see them wanting to do it again with Heyward.

Giants — 5%.  They’ve never done anything like this before and they’re also not likely the team that’s going to appreciate Heyward’s skill set but they’ve got holes.  Hunter Pence is in RF but he could be moved to LF, leaving Heyward to patrol RF and the very deep right-center while still enabling Heyward to use his power to take advantage of the right field wall that Bonds abused for so many years.  Posey makes a lot of money but he’s locked up until 2021.  Still, I see them more as players for pitching — Mike Leake or Jordan Zimmerman — than for Heyward.

Mariners — 10%.  This, I could see.  They have money and a huge outfield that needs to be patrolled by someone like Heyward.  New GM Jerry DiPoto is a guy I think appreciates the value that Heyward provides and has an edict from the front office to try to win.  He’s going to build around Cano, Kyle, Cruz, and King Felix.  Ultimately, I don’t see them wanting to have a 3rd $20 million player (Cano and Felix are the other 2) so I see them probably trying to fix multiple needs with several players but don’t be surprised if the M’s make a big push for Heyward.

Yankees — 10%.  Never say never.  The Yankees have several needs, a short right-field porch, and would appreciate the defensive and base running value that Heyward provides.  They also, of course, have the financial ability to outbid everyone else.  If they want him, they’ll probably get him.  That said, the Yankees have tried to be pretty judicious with their spending over the last couple of years to avoid paying excessive luxury taxes.  They already have Ellsbury, Gardner, and Beltran in their outfield and have Aaron Judge on the way.  And with Bryce Harper a free agent in just a couple of year, my guess is that they’ll try to blow the budget on Harper after Beltran and C.C. Sabathia come off the books.

Astros — 10%.  The Astros are close to being really good, as anyone who watched them in the playoffs this year knows.  They have a lot of young players and a ton of payroll space and, with Rasmus becoming a free agent, a hole in the outfield.  Sure, George Springer is in RF but they could easily move him to LF to accommodate Heyward.  My guess is that they feel the need to spend more on pitching this offseason than position players so they ultimately go a different route, but don’t be surprised if I’m wrong.

Dodgers — 15%.  It wasn’t too long ago when all anyone could talk about was how crowded the Dodgers’ outfield was and how they needed to trade some players.  What a difference a year can make.  Joc Pederson showed some warts by really struggling in the 2nd half.  Carl Crawford missed much of the season with injuries and didn’t play very well when he was out there.  Andre Ethier still isn’t very good and Yasiel Puig was injured much of the year and has become such a pain the butt that most expect the Dodgers to trade him this offseason.  That outfield surplus is now shaky at best.  Most of the Dodgers’ additions since Andrew Friedman took over have been smaller names rather than huge splashes but, after losing to the Mets in the NLDS, they may decide to spend a lot this offseason.  I’d expect them to extend Zack Greinke for about $150 million.  Do they want to spend an extra $200 on Heyward?  This is the other team who can outbid everyone else if they want to.

Cubs — 20%.  This is the worst case scenario for the Cardinals.  Not only did we lose to the Cubs in the NLDS and not only are they looking really strong well into the future, but the Cubs signing Heyward would not only improve their team but would make us worse in the process.  Yes, the Cubs probably need to add pitching but they are going to have a hole in CF and could trade either Soler or Schwarber to add pitching.  Heyward then would improve their outfield defense and hit homers in Wrigley.  He is unquestionably Epstein’s kind of guy and the Cubs have the payroll space in order to make this happen.  Then, there’s this from Craig Edwards:

I think the Cards and Cubs probably have the greatest chance to land Heyward but, unlike the Holliday or Pujols negotiations, there will be multiple competitors.  We’re not getting any hometown discount and if the Dodgers, Yankees, or Cubs decide to spend $225 million or more, we’ll lose him.  But, as long as the price stays in the $180-200 million range, I think we have as good a chance as anyone…and I think he’ll be worth that kind of contract.

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