It’s not often that a 26-year-old star player reaches free agency in the prime of his career, but Jason Heyward isn’t a player who comes around regularly. A sabermetric stud in a landscape that has put an increased emphasis on analytics, Heyward is going to command between $150-$200 million on his next deal. Easily.
Though Heyward has a career .268 average and sub-.800 OPS (.784), it’s his defensive prowess, the ability to get on base (.353 career OBP), and power potential that will get him paid. Having played 149-plus games in back-to-back seasons and never playing fewer than 100 in any single season, Heyward’s durability will also be a driving force in taking him to the bank.
St. Louis Cardinals
When the St. Louis Cardinals traded SP Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves to bring Heyward into the fold, it was not designed to be a one-year move. While some might point to the surprising emergence of Tommy Pham as well as the presence of Jon Jay in the outfield behind Heyward, neither should be viewed as an everyday player. In a game of inches, the distance between those two and Heyward is measured in miles.
This is a team that has promising, cost-controlled talent in players like Stephen Piscotty, Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk and Matt Carpenter, and the rotation appears to be standing on solid enough ground despite Lance Lynn’s surprise Tommy John surgery with Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha all going nowhere. Heyward is a good fit in a Cardinals lineup that looks noticeably lighter without him, and there’s little logic in jettisoning a player who was acquired to be a part of an extremely promising future.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a clogged outfield right now, but it would be shocking if that story remains the same long before spring training gets the chance to roll around. This is a team that knows it needs to make major changes, and Heyward’s arrival could be the first step in re-shaping a roster that promises to look dramatically different in 2016.
Elite when it comes to both his defense and baserunning, Heyward’s picture may very well already be plastered inside Andrew Friedman’s office at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers would have to clear out at least one of Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier to accommodate Heyward’s arrival, and I can assure you the team is doing everything possible in an attempt to do both. An outfield that already includes Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig would have a real opportunity to sparkle defensively if Heyward was added to the puzzle, and his bat would add an ingredient to the lineup that has been previously missing from the mix.
New York Yankees
Heyward’s price tag might not fit what the Yankees are now trying to do as the team looks more toward building its future than celebrating its past, but everything else about the 26-year-old outfielder has to appeal to General Manager Brian Cashman.
This is a group that needs to get younger, faster and better defensively, three traits Heyward brings to the table. With Carlos Beltran needing to be replaced in right field and the team struggling to figure out what it’s going to do with the overpaid Jacoby Ellsbury and the inconsistent Brett Gardner, adding Heyward would be a massive step in the right direction for a team that needs to take a few giant leaps.
Always seemingly lurking in the background, the Nationals would make for a very interesting Heyward landing spot. Bryce Harper still won’t hit free agency for another few seasons, Jayson Werth’s contract is finally capable of being moved with just two bloated years remaining and Washington really needs to improve the way this offense manufactures runs.
Locking Heyward into place alongside Harper would give Washington one of the best outfields in all of baseball regardless of who plays with them (Michael Taylor?) while making the Nationals a significantly better team. The National League East is still a very winnable division, and the Nats need to keep their foot on the gas pedal every single season Harper is on the roster.
San Francisco Giants
There is no question that the San Francisco Giants have identified pitching as the priority, but Heyward’s name has to be standing pretty prominently for a team with an enormous outfield need. Though Heyward’s signing would take some defensive reshuffling in order to make it work, the image of Heyward batting in front of Buster Posey may very well be one worth painting. The Giants value players capable of impacting the game in multiple ways, and Heyward can certainly do just that.
Other Teams to Watch: Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers