When Jason Heyward spurned St. Louis last year to take an enormous, 8 year, $184 million deal with the rival Chicago Cubs, Cardinals fans were understandably upset.
After just one season on the north side of Chicago, it’s already easy to see that Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and the rest of the front office lucked into making the right move, one that could actually save the franchise for the foreseeable future.
Some might want to point at the Heyward deal with the Cubs and say how it’s a great example of the Cardinals organization using restraint to avoid signing an overvalued player to an egregious contract. Well, that’s not 100% factual. If you recall, reports surfaced after the Cubs snatched Heyward away that the Cardinals actually matched the Cubs offer in terms of annual salary ($23 million!). The only thing that saved Mike Matheny from having to pencil in a mediocre .230 hitter into his lineup every day this season was the fact that Heyward preferred the Cubs’ collection of young talent to the opportunities that awaited him in St. Louis.
“Knowing the core is young and those guys are going to be around for a while is very exciting. I don’t want to take the highest dollar amount when my gut is telling me to go somewhere else.” – Jason Heyward
Now, let’s all take a moment to EXHALE as Cardinals fans, and retroactively thank Heyward’s “gut” for imploring him to take $23 million per year for the next 7 years from our most bitter rival. Sure, the Cubs may have won the World Series this past month, but every baseball fan who tuned in to the fall classic only to see the $184 million man on the bench can tell you that Chicago won it all despite Heyward, and not because of him.
Say what you will about Jason Heyward’s defense, but offensively speaking, Heyward was the fourth worst offensive player in the majors this year by wRC+. The list looks like this:
- Adieny Hechavarria – 56 wRC+
- Alexei Ramirez – 63 wRC+
- Alcides Escober – 68 wRC+
- Jason Heyward – 72 wRC+
Long story short with this wRC+ statistic, Heyward was 28% worse than an average major leaguer at creating runs in 2016. In the interest of fairness, when you consider how atrocious his offense was, that really shows just how special the 4-time Gold Glove winner was in the field to still end up with a WAR of 1.6. For your reference, here are some other players who produced a WAR of 1.6, with their 2016 salary conveniently displayed:
- Melky Cabrera – $14 million
- Jose Abreu – $7 million
- Yunel Escobar – $7 million
It was (and probably will be for the next 7 years) an awful contract that will be mentioned in the same breath as Mike Hampton’s, Ryan Howard’s, and Barry Zito’s. Safe to say we’re glad that it’s the Cubs’ problem to deal with. That being said, we probably came within inches (or a couple extra million dollars) from Heyward being our problem. Imagine having to slog through last summer with an outfield of Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuck and the offensively incapable Heyward. Remember those days when it seemed like scoring 3 runs in a game was an accomplishment? Having Heyward and his whopping .326 slugging percentage certainly wouldn’t be any help in that endeavor.
Lastly, when it comes to thanking our lucky stars this winter that Jason Heyward is a Cub and not on the Cardinals, think about how exciting it is for the Cardinals to be in the running for marquee free agents like Yoenis Cespedes or Ian Desmond. If we had an outfielder gobbling up $23 million of payroll year after year, forget about signing new players, we might be in a position instead to be shedding payroll this offseason.
Even though those awful Chicago Cubs got to “raise the W” in the last game of the 2016 season, deep down, it’s nice to know that they have their own problem on their hands. It’s not a small problem either, it’s an $184 million problem named Jason Heyward that came oh so close to being the Cardinals $184 million problem.