clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MLB free agent prediction: Who will sign Jason Heyward?

A baseball team, probably. But it will have to be a really, really rich one.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Now I don't know a whole lot about "baseball," but here's something I do know: General managers don't start their offseason by sorting players according to Baseball-Reference's WAR. They don't tell their assistants to make presentations based on what they find on FanGraphs. Those sites are valuable tools for everyone, of course, but every team is going to evaluate their players, their rivals' players, and potential offseason targets with their own secret statistical sauce.

According to WAR, Jason Heyward has been better than Buster Posey since coming into the league. Better than Alex Gordon, Evan Longoria, and Ryan Braun. Better than Giancarlo Stanton and Dustin Pedroia. He's been more than twice as valuable as Pablo Sandoval, Prince Fielder, and Chris Davis. According to the stats we have at our fingertips, Heyward is a superstar.

According to adjusted OPS, which accounts for league-wide scoring and home park, Heyward has been the 74th-best hitter in baseball since coming into the league. That's behind John Jaso, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Morse, and Torii Hunter. It's good, well above average. But can a player who is merely above-average at the plate really be a franchise cornerstone? WAR says yes, but you know the old song, ha ha, WAR what is it g

Here's where we find out just how closely some teams' secret sauces align with the stats we have access to. Heyward is the best test we've had in the post-sabermetric era. Do the numbers the professionals have say the same thing about him that WAR does?

Yeah, probably.

Heyward is about to become one of the richest players in baseball history. It's not just the defense and baserunning that makes him so appealing, either. It's the youth. Heyward is just 26, and one of the teams that believes in the healing powers of his defense will also believe that he still has some projection left. If the .280/.350/.440 hitter with 15 homers can be a superstar with his defense, what would a .300/.380/.500 hitter be? A Hall of Famer, at least with a few of those seasons strung together in a row.

Every team would love to get the chance to find out. Not every team wants to pay the $150-200 million cover charge to see the show, though, and that's at the low end of the estimates. Which team has that right mix of money, derring-do, and cocksuredness? Here's the ideal landing spot for the right fielder, along with the likely.

The ideal

Oh, I don't remember when I came up with these stupid categories. It was a couple years ago, and I was probably hungover. But if you're looking for the purest ideal fit, regardless of likelihood, it's pretty clear that Heyward is a Royals dream player. Does everything well, except for fielding, which he does exceptionally well. Sign Heyward, get Alex Gordon back, and enjoy the .101 opponents' batting average all season.

Alas, that's not realistic. So "the ideal" is code for "best fit among teams that might actually have a shot." The Giants could take their Zack Greinke slush fund and shovel it toward Heyward if they're rebuffed. He'd fit well with the young infield and give them an enviable under-30 core over the next few years. The Angels are reportedly interested, and it's not like we have any idea what kind of Rube Goldberg machine lives inside Arte Moreno's head. If the Orioles ever decided to wander back into the free agent bazaar, this would be a perfect fit.

But allow me to get weird. Heyward is young, and in three years, he would ostensibly still be in the prime of his career. In three years, any of the 30 MLB teams could be pennant contenders. Even the most abominable, destitute rosters can be turned over in three years, and as long as Heyward is willing to be a part of the process, he would make sense for even the worst teams in baseball right now. Say, one of the worst teams in baseball, but one that plays in a large market. Maybe a large-market team with almost no financial obligations.


The Phillies have $2 million committed to players in 2018. That's an option to Matt Harrison. That's it. They'll likely come in under $100 million this year, and they could come in under $100 million next year, assuming they don't exercise Ryan Howard's opthahahaha, sorry.

If there is a team that can afford to gamble on Heyward that wouldn't be completely devastated by the contract if it didn't work out, it's the Phillies. Ruben Amaro parachuted out of there in a hurry, but he actually left the farm in pretty good shape. The Phillies have the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and it's protected, so Heyward would only cost them their second-rounder. The Cole Hamels haul was highly regarded, and the Phillies have one of the game's best prospects, J.P. Crawford. Things are trending up, up, up, if only because there ain't no more down left.

Heyward would help with that process. Get your hands off me, I have a right to speak my mind. Heyward on the Phillies makes total sense, I said get your hands off me, they have the money and listen I'm not going anyw

The likely

The Cardinals. Boring, right? But they have the inside track, as they're familiar with Heyward, and they seem comfortable with him. They've been evaluating him for a year, and they're pleased enough to be very, very interested in his services. If he does the .280/.350/.440 thing with 15 home runs every year, great. If he improves, even better.

They also have a new 15-year, $1 billion television package kicking in, so they might not be as wary of a monster deal for a 26-year-old All-Star who could be the face of the franchise with some modest offensive improvements. Or who could secretly be the best player on the team for a decade without improving a lick.

The only wrinkles in this likely scenario: First, the Cardinals might want to spread their money around on pitching. Second, they grow outfielders in the rich soil behind Busch Stadium, using nothing but a little water and a little love. Are they really the team that needs to buy an outfielder for something close to $200 million? If they're convinced enough by his talent, sure, but it has to be a consideration that they're buying into one of their strengths.

Still, a quick spin around the league doesn't show a likelier fit. The Cardinals knew this when they traded for him. Now they're going to complete Phase 2 of last year's plan. Unless ...



No, seriously, the Phillies make a ton of sense, and they should probably be thinking about 2017, much less 2018. The fans haven't had a lot to get behind lately, and the Phillies could certainly afford to make a splashy move.

The ludicrous contract is the tax the Phillies would have to pay to come to a potential 100-loss team, of course. Considering that I don't really think this is going to happen, I'm pretty sure Heyward's contract will come in about $25 million or $50 million lower than this (Dave Cameron predicts nine years, $195 million; Jon Heyman predicts nine years, $180 million). Again, though, the Phillies don't have anything going on with their future payroll. They can get silly.

Oh, and there would be an opt-out clause riiiight at that three-year mark, when the Phillies should be finishing their turnaround. Still, here's the mystery team that should happen, even if it probably won't.

* * *

Previous free agent predictions:

Jeff Samardzija
Zack Greinke
David Price
Ben Zobrist