Anyone that follows the game closely knows Jason Heyward is the top free agent position player on the market. Because he made his big league debut against the Cubs on Opening Day 2010 as a 20-year old, Heyward is a very young free agent. Arguably the best right fielder in the game turned 26 in August.
Heyward is coming off an excellent season in St. Louis in the field and at the plate. During his first year with the Cardinals, Heyward hit .293/.359/.439 with 33 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs for a .797 OPS. Heyward walked 56 times with 90 strikeouts, stole a career-high 23 bases and drove in 60 runs.
Due to his age and skillset, Heyward is expected to sign an incredibly large contract that could reach 10 years in length and exceed $200 million. Speculation and predictions on what Heyward will sign for have ranged from a seven- to 10-year deal and $160-220 million.
As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have pointed out, the Cubs are looking for pitching, pitching and more pitching this off-season. The front office would like to add two starters to the rotation, either by signing free agents or through trades, or a combination of the two. The Cubs are not just looking for pitching at the Major League level, but to acquire depth in case the team is bitten by the injury bug next season.
Multiple outlets have indicated recently that if the front office trades for pitching and has to use Jorge Soler as part of a package to acquire a young, controllable arm then the Cubs could turn to Heyward to play right field.
Buster Olney explained that Heyward is “likely a secondary option” for the Cubs and “if other stuff doesn’t happen, could focus on him.” Olney also thinks it would take the Cubs moving an outfielder to open a spot for Heyward.
Reports have indicated the Cubs think Heyward could handle center field. But there have not been any indications that Heyward would be willing to play center.
Moving one of the best right fielders in the game to a position in which he’s played only 32 games at the big league level would not be the best defensive lineup Joe Maddon could run out. And playing Heyward in center would be like playing Addison Russell at second base when he was clearly the best defensive shortstop on the roster last April.
Ken Rosenthal reported that Heyward “remains a tantalizing target” for the Cubs and Theo Epstein “has long admired the outfielder, who at 26 is that rare free agent entering his prime.”
Without a doubt there is growing buzz within the game that Jason Heyward is a viable option for the Cubs. But it appears several other moves would have to take place before the Cubs could be in a position to sign him.