Jason Heyward has been a polarizing figure in recent Cubs history.
Signed to the biggest free-agent contract in team history before the 2016 season coming off a 6.9 bWAR 2015 season in St. Louis in which he finished 15th in MVP voting, hopes were high that the then 26-year-old Heyward would continue to produce in Chicago and help lead the Cubs to a World Series win.
Well. The Cubs did win the World Series, and you might not think Heyward’s clubhouse speech during the Game 7 rain delay meant anything. Personally, I think it did. That doesn’t negate the fact that Heyward had a miserable 2016 season at the plate, hitting career lows in all the slashline categories at .230/.306/.325 and being worth just 1.0 bWAR.
Heyward did continue to play plus defense in right field and won two Gold Gloves at that position as a Cub in 2016 and 2017. His offense got a little better each year and basically, he was about a 2.0 bWAR player on average from 2017-19, and likely would have been a bit better than that in a full 2020 season. His 2019 season was decent enough at the plate — .251/.343/.429 with 21 home runs — and if he had just done that every year we’d probably have been satisfied with the contract. (That 2019 season would have been better, too, if Joe Maddon hadn’t inexplicably put Heyward in the leadoff spot for 33 games, where he was terrible: .147/.252/.302).
Overall, then, Heyward’s contract is pretty much a bust.
And now with the World Series core gone and Heyward turning 33 next August, he’s pretty much superfluous for the Cubs with two years left on his contract at $22 million each (with a $23 million luxury tax hit).
The Cubs could, I suppose, eat a large amount of Heyward’s contract — or, even, all of it — and try to trade him to a team and get a lottery ticket prospect or two in return. I wrote about this in late September, and compared this situation to where the Cubs were with Alfonso Soriano in mid-2013, when they ate almost all of Soriano’s deal and got Corey Black from the Yankees.
They could do that — but maybe they could also try to find another team with a bad contract on its hands and hope that the change of scenery would allow the player acquired to play better for the Cubs.
Here are two such ideas.
Trade Heyward to the Diamondbacks for Madison Bumgarner. The D-Backs would take Heyward’s remaining money ($44 million over two years) and the Cubs would take all of Bumgarner’s remaining money ($60 million over three years, $17 million AAV for luxury tax purposes).
Bumgarner does have a limited no-trade clause (five teams), but the Cubs are reportedly not on that list, so he couldn’t block the deal.
There are two possible questions here:
1) Are the D-Backs willing to take on extra luxury tax?
2) Would Heyward veto this deal? He has 10-and-5 rights.
Arizona’s not going to be anywhere near the luxury tax threshold for the balance of Heyward’s deal, so paying less overall dollars out ($44 million as opposed to $60 million) might be appealing for them, and having only two years of money on their luxury tax instead of three could help them out.
Heyward is likely going to become a platoon player if he stays with the Cubs. He might get more playing time in Arizona, most likely, and could mentor some of their younger players.
Idea Number Two:
Trade Heyward to the Padres for Eric Hosmer. The Padres take all of J-Hey’s salary, the Cubs take all of Hosmer’s remaining contract ($60 million over the next four years, $18 million AAV for luxury tax purposes).
In this deal, you’d include Frank Schwindel (since the Cubs wouldn’t need him with Hosmer to play first base), and maybe the Cubs could get back a young SD prospect like Robert Hassell or CJ Abrams.
Heyward could platoon with Wil Myers in the Padres outfield, or maybe play left field for them if SD thinks his arm isn’t good enough for right field anymore. The Padres are (presumably) a contending team, so maybe Heyward approves this deal.
As is the case with the other proposal, this would take luxury tax money off San Diego’s books over two years instead of four, something they might like.
Anyway, there are a couple of thoughts about bad-contract swaps that might work to deal Jason Heyward. There’s a non-zero chance that Bumgarner or Hosmer could play better in a change of scenery, although It’s not Petco’s fault: Hosmer has actually had better home splits every year in SD. He’s played 31 games at Coors against bad Rockies teams. His line? .295/.370/.443. That’s nothing special for Coors. 31 games in Arizona. His line? .178/.240/.339. That’s terrible. For whatever it’s worth, Hosmer’s career slash in 25 games at Wrigley is also bad: .219/.286/.302.
Hosmer’s almost the same age as Heyward, two months younger, and Bumgarner is exactly eight days older than Heyward.
Which deal would you prefer?
Regarding Jason Heyward...
This poll is closed
... the Cubs should trade him to the Diamondbacks for Madison Bumgarner as laid out in the article
... the Cubs should trade him to the Padres for Eric Hosmer as laid out in the article
... the Cubs should eat all (or almost all) of his contract and try to get prospects from any team who will take him
... the Cubs should keep him for 2022 (and probably 2023)
... no one will trade for him, just eat the contract and give him his unconditional release
Something else (leave in comments)