Making sense of Heyward's primary suitors
The most compelling position-player free agent this offseason is Jason Heyward, with a handful of teams in hot pursuit. Where will he land? To help figure it out, MLB.com asked its reporters who cover the teams in question -- the Cardinals, Nationals and Cubs -- to give their best assessment, complete with a "Heyward Likelihood" score on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being "he's coming here."
The Nationals entered the Jason Heyward sweepstakes at the last minute, according to a baseball source. One can bet that managing principal owner Ted Lerner will get involved in the negotiations. Lerner was involved when they signed Max Scherzer and Jayson Werth.
The Nationals are in need of a left-handed bat to balance the starting lineup, and a center fielder to replace Denard Span. Heyward is an excellent baserunner and a three-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field, but many feel he would thrive in center alongside Bryce Harper. He could even bat leadoff if needed. If the Nats are able to get Heyward, it would mean outfielder Michael Taylor would be expendable. It wouldn't come as a surprise if Taylor was traded for bullpen help.
HEYWARD LIKELIHOOD: 8
-- Bill Ladson, Nationals beat reporter
Heyward has been the Cardinals' primary free-agent target since the start of the Hot Stove season, and nothing that the club has done so far has taken them off that pursuit. The organization knows how much the slick-fielding outfielder enjoyed his season in St. Louis -- a selling point the Cards were banking on when they gave up Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to acquire Heyward from the Braves last offseason.
The Cardinals do not regularly engage in bidding wars for high-priced free agents. In fact, the largest contract ever handed out by the franchise went to Matt Holliday in 2009, when he signed a seven-year, $120 million deal. Heyward will command more, and knowing that, the Cards have reconsidered their position of fiscal restraint.
With a new television rights deal about to kick in, and another season of drawing more than 3.5 million fans to the ballpark, the club has money to spend. Now, it's just a matter of how much it is willing to commit to a 26-year-old with a unique skill set, and how that offer stacks up with the others Heyward will receive. The Cardinals went big after David Price, only to be outbid. And there's no guarantee that won't happen again.
HEYWARD LIKELIHOOD: 6
-- Jenifer Langosch, Cardinals beat reporter
Heyward is still on the Cubs' radar, but he would have to fit into their budget. The team does have money to spend -- and it showed that by being active in the bidding for Price, but it was not willing to go $200 million in that deal. The Cubs also are hesitant to commit to extended long-term deals because of up-and-coming youngsters in the system. They weren't one of the front-runners for free agent Ben Zobrist, yet they snagged him -- but only because they were also able to move Starlin Castro and his contract.
The Cubs have talked to Heyward's agents, they do need a center fielder -- especially an athletic one who can cover for corner outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. However, general manager Jed Hoyer did mention that the club may need to sync two transactions to make another one work, such as it did with Zobrist/Castro.
HEYWARD LIKELIHOOD: 5
-- Carrie Muskat, Cubs beat reporter
The Angels' front office believes Jason Heyward is a perfect fit for its club. But as his market began to pick up steam on Thursday afternoon, it remained on the periphery, seemingly hesitant to commit to such a long-term contract.
Heyward can provide the Angels with that coveted left-handed bat behind Albert Pujols, and his elite right-field glove can move Kole Calhoun to left to give the Angels arguably the game's best defensive outfield. But the long-term deals for Pujols and Mike Trout -- not to mention all the money the Angels are paying the Rangers for Josh Hamilton -- seemingly has them hesitant to commit so much.
HEYWARD LIKELIHOOD: 5
--Alden Gonzalez, Angels beat reporter
THE "MYSTERY TEAM"
As we learned from Zack Greinke's last-minute decision to sign with the D-backs, you can never count out the "mystery team."
The Giants were in on Heyward, but it was reported on Tuesday that they are out of the sweepstakes unless his price drops. The Tigers have been linked to other top outfielders, so it's not crazy to think that they could get involved, considering their track record of spending on free agents. Speaking of spending, it's probably unwise to count the Dodgers out on any elite free agent.
HEYWARD LIKELIHOOD: 3