St. Louis Cardinals should let Jason Heyward walk after 2015


After the tragic death of Oscar Taveras last winter, the St. Louis Cardinals needed to fill a void in the outfield. That answer proved to be the trade that brought veteran Jason Heyward to St. Louis with Shelby Miller headed to the Atlanta Braves in exchange.

With St. Louis flying high atop the National League Central and top prospects Stephen Picotty and Randall Grichuk waiting in the wings, the question of Heyward’s future with the club is very much in question, especially with the outfielder reportedly seeking a major financial commitment when he hits the open market this winter.

This spring, when talking to the New York Times, St. Louis general manager Jon Mozeliak talked about Heyward’s make-up, both at the dish and in the outfield, where he’s emerged as one of the league’s best fielders.

"“He’s been a premier defensive player from Day 1. But when you talk about your offensive profile, he went from a power hitter to a leadoff hitter to focusing on getting on base. I think the $100 million question is, Which is he?”"

With his power output down so far this season (he’s on pace for just 10 long-balls) and his struggles against right-handed pitching, the likelihood he earns a six-figure deal is somewhat less certain than it was heading into the 2015 campaign.

Granted, he’s been every bit as good as advertised in the outfield with a perfect fielding percentage and he’s also been a smart and effective baserunner, but if he can’t produce at the dish like the Cardinals hoped and planned for, it’s not a stretch to say the team may go with one of several internal options.

Through 31 games this season, Heyward is batting .259/.312/.371 with an impressive .353/.436/.412 slash-line against left-handed pitching. However, southpaws have accounted for a minority of his plate appearances and his struggles when facing right-handers (.220/.256/.354) have brought his overall numbers down considerably.

When you break down his numbers in a Cardinals uniform so far, he’s been a bit better at Busch Stadium than on the road, especially in terms of on-base percentage (.349 to .274) – a statistic that is valued more than ever – and he’s also been notably improved in the month of May.

During the season’s first month, Heyward limped to a .611 OPS in 21 games – which left plenty to be desired. However, in May, he’s batting .364/.432/.424 – which has played a large role in the Cardinals’ recent winning ways, as the club leads the National League Central by half-a-dozen games.

Earlier this spring, Mozeliak talked about the initial dialogue between his organization and Heyward’s camp, remaining noncommittal to any future deals, but keeping the door open.

"“The initial steps together have been very positive,” he said. “Between him, his agent and the Cardinals, no one’s putting pressure on anyone. It’s not, ‘We’ve got to have a deal done by X or we’re not going to talk.’ Everyone’s remaining open-minded.”"

If he puts up May-like numbers for the next five months, then the six-figure deal would no-doubt be warranted. That being said, it’s no lock that St. Louis would come out on top if he hit the open market, given the high level of interest Heyward would generate.

And should that happen and Heyward walk, business will continue, as usual, in St. Louis. It’s what makes this team so dangerous: no matter the make-up of the roster, the club just keeps winning.

Next: ICYMI: Cardinals, Indians do battle in Cleveland