The Chicago Cubs recently gave veteran outfielder Jason Heyward his unconditional release. As a result, he is owed $22 million dollars. In hindsight, the St. Louis Cardinals avoided disaster if he re-signed with the team after the 2015 season.
Heyward was going to command a major contract after his first season with St. Louis. After all, Gold Glovers with an average 5.0 bWAR from 2010 to 2015 do not grow on trees. Recent history has shown players who were traded to the Cardinals tend to sign a new contract to stay in St. Louis (Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Matt Holliday, and most recently, Nolan Arenado)
That didn’t happen here.
Jason Heyward bucked that trend and signed an eight year, $184 million dollar deal with the rival Chicago Cubs. In doing so, Heyward turned down a $200 million dollar contract offer from the Cardinals.
Heyward’s rational: A younger core:
"Knowing the core is young and those guys are going to be around for a while is very exciting,” Heyward said in an afternoon news conference on Tuesday. “I don’t want to take the highest dollar amount when my gut is telling me to go somewhere else.“Being 26 years old and knowing that my contract would put me in any clubhouse for longer than most people there, you have to look at age, how fast the team is changing and how soon those changes will come about.”"
Let’s talk about that core, shall we?
After the Cubs won the World Series, they slowly diminished from the postseason picture. A 2017 NLCS loss was followed by a heartbreaking 2018 NL Wild Card loss at Wrigley Field to the Colorado Rockies. 2019 saw the Cubs miss out of the postseason completely.
Chicago rebounded to win the NL Central under new manager David Ross in the abbreviated 2020 season but lost a best-of-three Wild Card series to Miami.
Then everything bottomed out in 2021; An 11-game losing streak took the Cubs from first place to fourth place in the NL Central. At the trade deadline, the core of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, and former MVP and 2016 catalyst Kris Bryant were all traded.
But did Jason Heyward live up to his AAV of over $20 million dollars? Not at all.
During that 2016 run, Heyward hit only .230/.306/.325 and accumulated b1.0 WAR. It was also the first time in his career he did not reach double-digit home runs, only hitting seven home runs in 142 games. These low offensive totals led to Heyward having to completely retool his swing going into 2017.
That retooled swing led to moderate results, as Heyward hovered between 2.0 and 2.4 WAR between 2017 and 2019. Heyward also reached 100 OPS+ for the first time as a Chicago Cub in 2019.
After reaching his highest on-base percentage in 2020 (.392) and his highest OPS+ (129), Heyward fell off again. His OPS+ in 2021 was 69, and last season fell to 58. While Heyward posted a modest .347 OBP, he finished last season with a paltry .278 OBP, one point higher than his SLG (.277).
Heyward’s final bWAR in 2022: -0.7.
Missing out on Jason Heyward stunk back in 2016, but the Cardinals dodged a bullet as Heyward’s contract played out in Chicago. After posting 6.9 WAR in his lone season with St. Louis, Heyward only accumulated 8.9 bWAR during his entire tenure with the Cubs. Now the Cubs owe $22 million dollars to a player not even rostered.
And that’s a problem we should all be thankful the Cardinals do not have.