Last week, news broke that Jason Heyward was signed to an eight year, 184 million dollar contract by the Cubs. The contract includes a pair of opt-out clauses, after year three and year four. Those clauses are contingent on Heyward reaching a certain number of plate appearances.
The big winner here is obviously Heyward. 184 million dollars is a massive amount of money, and, thanks to the opt-out clauses, he’ll be able to re-enter free agency at age 29 or 30, where he’ll be able to land another big contract.
Heyward has to thank Atlanta for its help. The Braves brought him up to the majors at age 20, allowing him to reach free agency at 26, unlike most others, who reach free agency in their late twenties.
This is a great deal for Chicago as well. Due to his relative youth, a lengthy contract isn’t much of a burden. The deal keeps Heyward (barring any opt-outs) in Chicago until he’s 34, when, while he’ll have left his prime, he’ll still be a solid player.
The best thing about this contract from Chicago’s point of view is that Heyward, despite being a free agent, is roughly the same age as the rest of their young studs. Heyward is 26, a day younger than Anthony Rizzo, while the rest of the young core consists of the 23-year olds Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Javier Baez, the 22-year old Kyle Schwarber, and the 21-year old Addison Russell. That lineup is loaded, and it’ll be loaded for the rest of the decade.
There’s only one potential problem. Heyward derives much of his value from his spectacular defense in right field. However, that’s where Soler plays, so Heyward, as of now, is expected to play in center field. He’s played there before, although not extensively; throughout his career he’s spent a total of 233 innings in center field.
The Cubs are fine with Heyward playing center field, but another option open to them is trading Soler, putting Heyward in right field, and then signing one of the free agent center fielders including Denard Span, Gerardo Parra, and Dexter Fowler, who played for the Cubs this past season.
Either way, when the only quibble with this contract is the mild problem of whether Heyward will be a good or great center fielder if he ends up playing there, it’s a pretty good deal.