A few days ago one of my fellow writers Mark Wilson wrote a piece about the three offseason moves the Chicago Cubs needed to make so they can return to the World Series next year. It was a really interesting read and one you should definitely check out.
In that piece though one of the things he mentioned was that the Cubs should trade Jason Heyward. Personally, I think the mere suggestion Heyward plays anywhere except Chicago next year is preposterous. Here’s why…
1. His Age
When Heyward was a free agent last offseason, the Cubs signed him to an eight-year, $184 million deal ($23M average annual value) as he entered his age-26 campaign. It’s extremely rare that an opportunity arises to sign a free agent in the peak of their careers like that, so Chicago’s front office had to pay top dollar in order to get Heyward to Wrigley Field.
He’s still only going to be 27 next year, and although Heyward hit just .230 with seven homers, 27 doubles, and 49 RBIs this year, one would have to be foolish not to expect some sort of rebound. Though he wasn’t great at the plate, the left-hander still provided his trademark great defense and solid speed. Heyward wasn’t great in the playoffs either (5-for-48, 1 RBI, 4 SB), but one bad season is no reason to trade a guy who is still in his prime. It’s also worth noting that Heyward has gone to the playoffs in five of his seven seasons in the majors.
No free agent available this year has anywhere near the same great resume that Heyward is able to put together, and all of those players available on the open market are at least three years older than Heyward too. If the Cubs decided to trade their right fielder, they would get back an unnecessary monstrous haul of prospects. Chicago has a roster ready to create a dynasty now, not one reliant on prospects for the future.
Just a year ago, Heyward capped off a season in which he slashed .293/.359/.439 with 13 homers, 33 doubles, and 60 RBIs while swiping 23 bases at an 88 percent success rate. There is absolutely no reason he can’t return to those solid numbers in 2017 and beyond.
2. The Alternatives
Hypothetically, let’s say that the Cubs were able to trade Heyward this offseason. Who would they replace him with? Jorge Soler is on the roster, but he’s been way more unimpressive than Heyward throughout his career. Soler’s hit .258 during his three big league seasons as he averaged nine homers and 33 RBIs a year, though he doesn’t have the speed or defensive capabilities the current right fielder has at his disposal.
If the Cubs really wanted Soler to be their everyday right fielder they wouldn’t have signed Heyward during the offseason. Right now the Cuban is nothing more than a fourth or fifth outfielder and could potentially be considered trade bait.
This year’s crop of free agents may not have many exciting starting pitchers among them, but there are certainly plenty of good corner outfielders to choose from. The top tier includes guys like Ian Desmond, Michael Saunders, Josh Reddick, Mark Trumbo and potentially Yoenis Cespedes. Outside of them, you start to consider Jose Bautista, Brandon Moss, Carlos Gomez, Colby Rasmus and Matt Holliday.
There is a plethora of really good players among that group to choose from, but are any of them nearly as attractive as Heyward? A number of those aforementioned free agents enjoyed solid campaigns in 2016, but they don’t offer quite the upside as the Cubs current right fielder. I’d gladly see Ian Desmond or Josh Reddick manning Wrigley’s right field for 81 games next year, but the hassle of trading Heyward and then spending a fair sum of money to bring in a free agent isn’t worth it, particularly when the Cubs would have to take on some of Heyward’s salary to trade him anyway.
3. The Outfield Alignment
The one constant about Chicago’s offseason is going to be Dexter Fowler and his impact on the roster. If he returns to Chicago, then the Cubs presently would have four starters for three positions. I speak of course of Fowler, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist, and Heyward.
If Fowler chooses to go elsewhere, though, the Cubs may potentially wind up with a center fielder that isn’t typically a center fielder. Should Fowler sign a contract with any of the 29 other teams, Chicago could have as many as two new starters in their outfield on opening day. At least one of them is already on the roster with Kyle Schwarber making his return to the field.
Jason Heyward figures to slide over to center field while Ben Zobrist could potentially become the everyday right fielder. Though Zobrist spent a lot of 2016 at second base, Javier Baez’s impact during the postseason demands that he gets an opportunity to start at least 140 games a year, thus pushing Zobrist to the outfield. The super utility man has over 2450 career innings of MLB experience in right field so it’s hardly a risk having him play so many games there in 2017.
Heyward is by no means an ideal center fielder because he’s played only 404 innings there in his career, though his combination of average, speed and on-base ability projects better as a center fielder than what he could do in the corner spots anyway. When the Cubs signed him last offseason it seemed inevitable Heyward would end up playing center field one day. Opening day 2017 may be that day.
Yet, if Theo Epstein chose to move Heyward this offseason then Chicago would be without a true center fielder on their roster, once again being forced to turn to a free agent class that really isn’t any better than what they presently have.
The Cubs still have a really good player on their hands who is capable of being an All-Star for many years to come. Lots of the game’s greats endure a bad year during their career; Heyward joined that group in 2016. That doesn’t mean Chicago’s front office should be making rash decisions to trade him.
You cannot expect someone of Heyward’s class to continue to look as bad at the plate as what he was this year. With his ability to get on base, as well as the 27-year-old’s speed and defensive ability, Heyward remains a key component of this Chicago Cubs roster.