Seven Free Agent Signings That Will Impact Playoff Races in 2016

 Source: David Banks/Getty Images North America

Source: David Banks/Getty Images North America

Number 4: Outfielder Jason Heyward

There is a reason why everybody is so high on the Cubs in 2016, including Vegas.

The Cubs were already a great team heading in the right direction before this offseason coming off a 97-win season and a berth in the N.L. Wild Card game. Epstien and Hoyer, building from within, have put the Cubs in a great position to dominate the National League for years to come.

More than any other franchise in sports, college or professional, I can’t think of a fan base that is more patient than the people who bleed Cubbie blue on a daily basis. They have waited 71 years for their team to represent the senior circuit in the Fall Classic, and 108 years to be on top of the baseball world.

Under those circumstances, its easy to understand the desire to win now.

Here is both the scary and exciting part: this upcoming season might be their best chance to get it done. The Cubs will come into the season as the favorites to run away with the N.L. Central and dethrone the St. Louis Cardinals as the top dogs in that division, and once the playoffs start anything can happen.

The high expectations that have been placed on this team have a lot to do with the success the Cubs accomplished last season. Those expectations only grew after the Cubs made their biggest splash of the offseason by signing the best free agent outfielder on the market: Jason Heyward.

In 154 games last season, Heyward slashed .293/.359/.439 with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs and an OPS+ of 116 (100 is league average for OPS+). Heyward finished the 2015 season as the tenth-most-valuable position player in baseball with a 6.5 WAR.

The 26-year-old native of Ridgewood, New Jersey, combines his superb ability to hit for a high average, and take the extra base when needed (he finished with 33 doubles and four triples in 2015), with a elite arm in center field and right field and the athletic ability to cover every area of the outfield.

The former Atlanta Brave is the perfect number-two hitter for Joe Maddon‘s lineup and has played in at least 149 games in each of the past two seasons.

This signing will have an obvious impact on the playoff chase in the N.L. Central. The Cubs gained at least six more wins than they had last year with just Heyward alone, not to mention all of their other additions.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are going in the exact opposite direction. They haven’t made any flashy additions and St. Louis lost an impact player at the plate and in the field to a division rival which makes it sting even more.

Heyward’s decision appears to have shifted the balance of power in this division not just for this upcoming year, but for seasons and possibly decades to come.

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