J-Hey now, you're a Cubs star, got paid
Three-time Gold Glove winner will move to center field and to other side of rivalry with Cards
CHICAGO -- One of the lures for free agents signing with the Cubs has been the desire to be on the team that wins the World Series and ends the century-plus drought. Apparently, Jason Heyward wants to be on that team.
The free-agent outfielder -- who reportedly turned down more money from the Cardinals and Nationals -- has agreed to join the Cubs on an eight-year contract worth $184 million with two opt-outs, the first being after the 2018 season, according to multiple reports Friday. Heyward can reportedly opt out of his deal after the third year or the fourth year if he exceeds certain plate appearance threshholds. The club would not comment on or confirm the reports.
Heyward, 26, fills a large gap in center field, replacing Dexter Fowler, who is a free agent. In addition, he is an attractive fit at Wrigley Field, where he's batted .311 (28-for-90) with four home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs in 25 games.
He is the second free agent to make the move from the Cardinals to their rivals, the Cubs, joining John Lackey, who signed a two-year deal last week. The Cubs will surrender their first two 2016 Draft picks for signing Lackey and Heyward, who had received and rejected qualifying offers from St. Louis. They should get back one pick since they made Fowler a qualifying offer.
Earlier this week at the Winter Meetings, both Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer said they believe this year's class of free agents is much deeper than next year's, so spending-wise, they could fit two offseasons into one.
"You have a budget number and that number is going to change," Hoyer said. "[The business side] is always trying to find additional dollars, and whenever they do have additional dollars they let us know."
Although Heyward has primarily played right field, scouts say he could easily transition to center at Wrigley. Heyward was considered the top free-agent outfielder on the market, and now the Cubs could have a lineup with Ben Zobrist, Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Miguel Montero and Addison Russell.
The Cardinals, Nationals and Angels also were interested in Heyward, who batted .293 in 154 games last season, hitting 13 home runs, 33 doubles and four triples. With his career .353 on-base percentage, he's considered a good fit for the top of the order with another new addition, Zobrist, who signed a four-year contract earlier this week.
The Cubs were looking for defense in center to cover the corner outfielders, Schwarber and Soler, and Heyward should perfectly fill that responsibility. He has won three Gold Gloves in the past four seasons, winning two with the Braves and another with the Cardinals.
How ready are the Cubs to add Heyward? Russell posted on Twitter that he's willing to give up his uniform No. 22 for Heyward, saying: "Even though I might have to change my number, I'm perfectly okay with that. I just wanna help fly that #W #goodguys."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Heyward was not an elite fantasy outfielder during his single season with St. Louis, but he did post the highest batting average (.293) and stolen-base total (23) of his six-year career. As part of a suddenly scary Cubs lineup, the 26-year-old should be a strong five-category contributor in 2016. He might score 90 runs if he bats near the top of the lineup, with 80-plus RBIs also possible if he hits behind superstars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. But to become a top-tier fantasy hitter, Heyward will need to top the 20-homer mark for the first time since 2012. In order to rip more round-trippers, Heyward must alter an approach that led to a career-high ground-ball rate last season.