Does Jason Heyward Make the Cubs the Best Team in the National League?
I know it seems silly to say this about a team that hasn't appeared in a World Series since the tail end of World War II, but right now, the Chicago Cubs are your Fall Classic favorites for 2016.
On Friday, the star-crossed Cubbies signed all-around outfielder Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract, improving themselves markedly in several areas, while at the same time weakening their chief divisional rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. And it's not the first time this offseason they've done that, also signing starter John Lackey to a very smart two-year deal.
With Jason Heyward & John Lackey going to Cubs, this is 1st time multiple free agents have gone from Cardinals to Cubs in single offseason
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 11, 2015
Well played, Theo. Well played indeed.
And when you add the signing of Ben Zobrist earlier in the week, you can see the Cubs are kinda serious about getting to their first World Series since 1945.
The Cubs aren't messing around. pic.twitter.com/oj5QDRmqso
— ESPN (@espn) December 11, 2015
What the Deal Means
First, just how good is Heyward?
He's definitely an interesting player, ranking as one of the most valuable players over the last two years, according to Wins Above Replacement. In fact, he's totaled 11.2 fWAR over the last two seasons. Only Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Lorenzo Cain and Buster Posey have accumulated more WAR during that time.
What made him really appealing to so many teams is his age. Heyward hit the free agent market at an unusually young age, just 25, having played his rookie season at 20 years old back in 2010 for the Atlanta Braves. You almost never see high quality players this young hit the market.
Heyward is not a perfect player, and he will be paid the same as players who put up far better numbers offensively. He hit .293/.359/.439 for the Cardinals in 2015, with a .346 weighted on base average (wOBA) and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 121. Both were the second highest totals of his career but were not terribly high among National League leaders. His .346 wOBA was 20th out of qualified NL batters, and his 121 wRC+ was 16th.
He's also not much of a power guy, hitting just 13 bombs in 610 plate appearances last season.
However, the Cubs have plenty of power to go around. What they desperately needed was an on-base man and solid defensive outfielder, and in Heyward, they got one of the very best in the game in both areas.
Among all MLB players, Heyward finished fourth in Defensive Runs Saved last year with 22. That number was tops among right fielders, with the next closest right fielder being Curtis Granderson with 12. Heyward's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 20.2 was also best among right fielders, Kole Calhoun was next closest at 13.8. And his overall Fangraphs Def number of 14.0 was also best in baseball, better than Calhoun's 6.6.
So now, the Cubs are loaded. They have the young power bats, have added an influx of quality veterans, and there are reports the team is still looking for another starting pitcher to go along with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey.
And even though next year is an even-numbered season (which usually means a San Francisco Giants world title), the addition of Heyward helps Chicago establish itself as likely the odds-on favorite to reach the World Series in 2016.