The offseason is the one time of year, where premier free agents can land monstrously lucrative contracts. Prime examples of these are Prince Fielder‘s $214 million signing with the Detroit Tigers back in 2011 and Robinson Cano‘s $240 million pact that was inked in 2013. Sometimes, you don’t even need to be a free agent to land a contract of this size. Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton‘s record-shattering $325 million contract, is the richest contract ever signed in American sports history.
Something that all of these players (technically excluding Stanton) have in common, is that they were the premier free agent bats of their respective classes. This year, that distinction belongs to outfielder Jason Heyward. The former Atlanta Brave is about three months into his age-26 season, and is just entering the prime of his career. In six seasons, Heyward owns a .268/.353/.431 slash line. He’s hit 97 home runs and has driven in 352 runs, while stealing 86 bases and winning three Gold Gloves. At the ripe age of 26, Heyward is only going to get better.
Heyward was once viewed as the face of the Atlanta Braves franchise. Unfortunately, the Braves’ plans quickly changed, and the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up found himself heading west (or Midwest to be more precise). On November 17, 2014, it was announced that the Atlanta Braves had traded Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals, in exchange for youngster Shelby Miller and minor league prospect Tyrell Jenkins. This trade stunned the baseball world, as Heyward was expected to be a major part in the Braves rebuild. Obviously, this move signified that Atlanta’s front office members were not confident in their ability to secure Heyward’s talents long-term, and felt it was best to capitalize on his value before he left.
In his time with the Cardinals, Heyward fit in perfectly. He hit .293, with 13 HRs, 60 RBIs, and 23 steals. The outfielder was the force at the top of the lineup that kept the Cardinals lineup moving along steadily throughout numerous injuries to other top players. Whether or not St. Louis can match the spending of the biggest market teams in an effort to re-sign Heyward remains to be seen.
As the 26-year-old gets ready to test free agency, he’ll have no shortage of suitors. Clearly, the Cardinals will be looking to retain his services. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi is reporting that the Angels are “considering” a run at the NL’s 2015 right field Gold Glove winner. Aside from the Cards and Angels, there are no other confirmed teams of interest. MLBTradeRumors.Com’s Brad Johnson speculates in his recent article, that some possible fits for Heyward include the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Cubs. Another interesting team of note mentioned by Johnson are the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies, on paper, may seem like the best fit for Heyward. Beyond the 2017 season, their only payroll commitment is a $2 million buyout option on pitcher Matt Harrison. That means that in theory, the Phillies have the financial wherewithal to be able to outbid just about any team in a pursuit of Heyward. Now, many of you are probably asking, “Why would Jason Heyward, sign with the Phillies?”
Bear with me.
It may be true that the Phillies finished in the basement of the league this season, going 63-99. It’s also true that the team has very little talent on its Major League roster. However, the Phillies have many things working in their favor when it comes to signing a player like Heyward.
First, and foremost, the team has a load of financial flexibility. The team once had hundreds of millions of dollars committed to the “core” of the franchise (Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz). Since then, the team has been able to unload the contracts of Hamels, Utley, and Rollins. The team also exercised their $12.5 million buy-out option on Cliff Lee‘s contract. Entering the offseason, the team has less than $65 million committed to Howard, Ruiz, Harrison, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, in addition to the $12.5 million from Lee’s buy-out. This amount of flexibility, will allow the team to potentially be serious players in the market for a guy like Heyward.
Secondly, the team has a wealth of young talent to place around Heyward. Many teams out there can boast their championship contending rosters or rotations, but there aren’t many teams that can use their wealth of young talent as a bargaining chip. The Phillies are one of those few teams, that can do that. With guys like Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera on the roster, the Phillies have already have a few solid pieces in place for a rebuild. As a result of a few trades, and an emergence of some prospects though, the Phillies have seemingly accelerated their rebuild.
When the team traded Hamels back in July, they received a monstrous package of prospects including three prospects in MLB.Com’s top 60. That trade only added to the already rebuilding farm system, that began about nine months earlier, when the team traded Jimmy Rollins. Only weeks after the Hamels trade, the Phillies unloaded long-time second baseman Chase Utley, furthering the depth in their rejuvenated farm system. In addition to the current wealth of young talent, the Phils will look to take a major step forward, with the first overall selection in June’s MLB Draft.
Finally, there is one final thing working in the Phillies favor; their ability to make Heyward the “Face of the Franchise.” With a lack of a true “superstar” in the organization, this would provide the team with a chance to establish a franchise mainstay, that could help lure free agents to Philadelphia in future classes.
With Heyward currently gauging his value on the open market, his eventual contract is expected to be roughly around $200 million. There may be many factors working in the favors of the Phillies. But, there’s one major factor that is going against the team — the ability to win. While Heyward may only be 26, the eventual goal of any baseball player, is to win the World Series. Since the Phillies can’t provide that possibility (at least for a few years), GM Matt Klentak may have to do some extra work to land Jason Heyward.