As the market for Jason Heyward sorts itself out, all of the big spenders are expected to be involved. No one would be surprised if the 26-year-old Gold Glover re-signs with the St. Louis Cardinals or signs with a big-market team like the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs, or New York Yankees. There’s one big-market team whose name has been floated out around Heyward’s free agency who would surprise.
Do not count out the Philadelphia Phillies when it comes to landing Jason Heyward’s signature on a big, blockbuster contract.
The Philadelphia Phillies have way more flexibility to sign Heyward than any other wealthy team in the league. The Phillies are locked into only three veteran players beyond the 2016 season — Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, and Matt Harrison. Howard and Ruiz can, and certainly will be, bought out before the 2017 season. Harrison, a throw-in piece in the Cole Hamels deal, will be bought out before the 2018 season, unless he miraculously resurrects his career. For all intents and purposes, Andy MacPhail and his new front office are working with a blank slate going forward when it comes to payroll.
The Phillies have a ton of exciting young talent. Odubel Herrera looks poised to add his name to the list of all-time great Rule 5 picks. There’s Maikel Franco, who should easily supplant Howard as the most powerful hitter in the lineup. Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez look good up the middle. One of them will become expendable when J.P. Crawford reaches the Major Leagues. Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr appear talented enough to be useful to a big league team. In the rotation, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff are the real deal.
The Phillies tore everything down following their window to contend. It was ugly for most of the first half, but the team played close to .500 following the 2015 All-Star Game. This team is not as far away as many would like to believe. The Phillies landed a mother lode of prospects in the Cole Hamels deal, and could land another nice package if the front office decides to move Ken Giles. As it went for the Houston Astros, this rebuild could end in a hurry if all the talented youngsters continue playing up to their potential.
The Astros were ready to strike as soon as it became evident early this year that their playoff hopes were for real. The Phillies need to prepare to do the same thing. The Washington Nationals could see their window to contend begin to shut, and although the New York Mets went to the World Series, there are more questions than answers regarding their future so far this offseason. Philadelphia needs to be poised to strike as soon as the rebuilt roster begins to gel.
That’s where a player like Jason Heyward comes in.
A year before the Nationals went to the playoffs for the first time, they made a big splash by signing Jayson Werth away from the Phillies. Yes, the seven-year, $126 million contract was a massive overpayment, but the Nationals were just about ready to begin contending. Following 102-, 103-, and 93-loss seasons, Washington pulled the trigger on a deal for Werth, then won 80 games in 2011. The team has not fallen back below .500 since. Werth was by no means the piece that put the Nationals over the top, but the Phillies should follow their lead and begin spending surplus money into the final stages of the rebuild.
The level of talent in this year’s free-agent class rarely comes along, especially as more teams lock up their players during arbitration-eligible years, effectively buying them out until after age 30. Heyward is the youngest, and most well-rounded player in the talented outfield class that also includes Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Alex Gordon. For the Phillies, Heyward would walk in the door and become the face of the franchise. That’s not something the other big-market teams can offer him. Citizens Bank Park would likely allow him to begin tapping the 30-homer potential everyone sees in him.
The Phillies have the potential to make Jason Heyward an offer he cannot refuse, and he may be willing to listen. Philadelphia offers the All-Star a very unique opportunity. He can come in and be the leader of a young group of exciting players. If the Phillies return to the playoffs, it will be on Heyward’s broad shoulders. That’s the type of responsibility a true star should relish. With essentially no money committed beyond next season, the Phillies can make Heyward a nine-year offer worth over $200 million. Many other teams in the league may balk at such a lengthy contract, but the Phillies have flexibility. Many of the players who highlight the rebuild will not even be eligible for arbitration until the second half of Heyward’s deal kicks in.
Yes, there are some risks associated with Jason Heyward. He has dealt with injuries in the past, and he may never fully harness that home run potential. Some Phillies fans may be scared off from Heyward after witnessing the rapid decline of Ryan Howard. However, Heyward has been healthy the past two seasons, and should only continue improving. The Atlanta Braves rushed him to the big leagues, and Heyward was still very much a work in progress when he debuted.
While the Philadelphia Phillies should still be viewed as a long-shot candidate to sign Jason Heyward, he is a fit for many reasons. Most of the pieces that will make the Phillies a winner are already in place. The team still needs its leader, the next Chase Utley. Jason Heyward can fill that role.