There was much consternation throughout the Cardinal fan base over the weekend due to Jason Heyward’s departure to the Chicago Cubs. While I don’t want to minimize the loss, it’s not catastrophic, either.
Here are five reasons why.
1) The ideal baseball player has five outstanding tools; the ability to hit for average, hit for power, run, field and throw. While Heyward possess three outstanding tools with his ability to run, go get the ball, and throw the ball, his other two are either average or not worthy of the contract he got. Heyward is the first outfielder to get a $100 million contract that has never scored or driven in 100 runs in a season. In a sport that still decides games by how many runs are scored and allowed, he’s not a highly productive offensive player. His 162 game averages are 19 homers and 68 RBI, with a .353 OBP. Those are fine numbers for a leadoff hitter, but not for a $23 million a year, middle of the order hitter.
2) WAR (wins above replacement) is a wonderful theory, and a lot of people in the SABR movement touted Heyward’s WAR as a reason to sign him to a huge contract. However, as BaseballReference.com admits, “There is no one way to determine WAR.
There are hundreds of steps to make this calculation, and dozens of places where reasonable people can disagree on the best way to implement a particular part of the framework.” While ESPN.com’s WAR calculation clearly has great players at the top, ranking Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock as the numbers one and two outfielders in the National League, Heyward was third in WAR at 6.5. Then if you scroll down…way down…you find Matt Kemp of the Padres at number 46 with a WAR of 0.6.
You’re telling me that Jason Heyward, who hit .293 with 13 homers and 60 RBI playing home games in St. Louis, is that much better than Kemp, who it .265 with 23 homers and 100 RBI playing home games in San Diego? In fact, Melvin Upton, Jr., Kemp’s teammate, hit .259 with five homers and 17 RBI, and was ranked 30th among N.L. outfielders in WAR, sixteen spots ahead of Kemp. That makes no sense to me.
3) Even though the Cardinals say they won’t pursue free agent outfielders Alex Gordon, Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, they have projectable quality offense in the outfield. Granted, there are question marks about a declining and aging Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, who was injured for much of last year, and Steven Piscotty.
But until last year, Holliday had been a remarkably durable player, and while his numbers have declined with age, it’s not unreasonable to expect something close to 2014’s .272/.370/.441 with twenty homers rather than last year’s injury plagued 73 game season. Until last year, Grichuk had been a durable player in the minors. And projecting Piscotty’s numbers over a full season make his comparable to Heyward’s of last season.
Piscotty would figure to be at least as productive as Heyward. So they can get by with those three, plus Brandon Moss and Tommy Pham in the outfield. John Mozeliak says he will pursue pitching, and he should.
4) As the Best Fans in Baseball know through fifteen years of unprecedented success, teams that win World Championships do so with quality pitching, specifically starting pitching. Last year’s Royals were third in the American League with a 3.73 ERA and were sixth in runs scored.
The 2014 Giants were sixth in the NL with a 3.50 ERA. The 2013 Red Sox were sixth in the AL in ERA, and made a move to add Jake Peavy to Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholtz for stellar post-season pitching. The 2012 Giants were 5th in ERA, sixth in runs, Not that quality offense isn’t needed, but runs can be manufactured. Pitching cannot.
5) The Cubs have done a wonderful job of adding pieces to their NLCS core, including Heyward’s $184 million contract. The last team to win a World Series with a high profile, long term free agent position player was the 2009 Yankees with Mark Texiera. The Red Sox won in 2004 and 2007 with Manny Ramirez.
Otherwise, over the last 25 years, teams haven’t won with big money free agents from the outside. Winners have done so by drafting and developing, and letting those players become the stars of the team. Then they fill in with trades and less expensive free agents. Not to say the Cubs won’t win, but if they do with Heyward, they’re going to be bucking history. And on the opposite side, teams can lose extremely important parts of their team to free agency and continue to succeed.
Signing Heyward isn’t a guarantee of success for the Cubs or a death knell for the Cardinals, who will continue to try to draft a develop players like Piscotty, Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong and an array of young pitchers.
It hurts that Heyward took less guaranteed money to go to the Cubs than the Cardinals, but that was his choice. As I mentioned on Friday in The Fast Lane, I have a lot more confidence in John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt’s ability to build a winner than my own. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. But let’s stay calm about this before determining that the Cubs and Heyward are on their way to the 2016 World Series.