December 11, 2015

The #Cardinals, Jason Heyward and options

Eight years, and $200 million. Since Jayson Stark, in talking about Cardinals' free agent outfielder Jason Heyward, tweeted this on Thursday:
That's what the Cardinals are looking at. Whether the Nats also offered that amount, I don't know; it seems clear that was the Cards' offer.

Update, 1:30 p.m. Dec. 11. That's NOT what they were looking at, or else the Cards were the $200M mystery team on a 10-year, no opt-out contract. The Cubs just signed Heyward, but for no more than $185M over 8 years.

And, parsing various news, it seems like the Nats (and thus, not the Cards) were that $200M team.

In other words, despite his tough talk, Cards GM John Mozeliak took a powder at crunch time. I'm not totally angry with him, but I am at least somewhat.

And, now that the trade is official, I've summarized my thoughts on how I think the Cards should move on, AND whether this might be a less than perfect move by the Cubs, in this new post.

Meanwhile, back to the original thread.

Chris Davis: Cardinal?
That $200M is also what Scott Boras (you say Boras, I say BorASS, let's call the whole thing off) is reportedly seeking for Orioles 1B free agent Chris Davis.

Davis would be ... interesting.

The Cardinals haven't had his type of power bat since 2011, when Phat Albert went to Anaheim and whatever the hell other cities in Southern California Arte Moreno wants named after the Angels. (Sorry, Cards fans, but while Matt Holliday has had decent pop in his bat, he's not in the same slugger class.)

But, aren't there options? Alex Gordon? Yoenis Cespedes?

Well, they'd both be cheaper, but, neither plays right. So, is Stephen Piscotty ready to be a right fielder with the Cardinals playing Randal Grichuk in center if Heyward is gone? That said, Cespedes has played some center in his past, which would theoretically let Grichuk go to right, but it's been occasional, and he's been below average. (Per Sportrac, the market for actual right-fielder free agents ain't that good.)

And, no, Ben Hochman of the Post-Dispatch, moving Gordon to first ain't a good option either. Mo will probably claim it is, though.

So, if it's Piscotty in right, I'm sure that's not Mike Matheny's preferred managerial option. Piscotty did play primarily right in Memphis and was OK to OK-minus defensively. And, he's not got the arm that would give him plus value to offset OK-at-best range.

So, add this up and remember that Heyward or a reasonable option is the Cards' top need by far.

That said, Davis would give them that masher that the Cards have had at first base, with Pujols, and Big Mac before him, then Pedro Guerrero (a semi-masher), then Jack Clark back in the middle of Whiteyball. I mean, the 1982 Birds with the Merry Mex at first are the only Cardinals World Series team in the last 50 years to truly skimp on power at first. On the other hand, Davis is a Boras client, and the Cards have generally avoided dealing with him and vice versa.

Is Matt Adams the answer at first? Matt Adams platooning with Brandon Moss and a cameo from Brayan Pena?

Probably not. What Cards fans saw in 2014 is likely near Adams' ceiling, and that involved some judicious platooning. Moss might be worth more as part of a trade to an AL team for whatever. And, if Heyward walks, the Cards need a real answer from somewhere.

That said, the Heyward issue seems down to three teams. Signing Ben Zobrist apparently didn't eliminate the Cubs, and now the Nationals are involved. That said, that guarantees Bryce Harper asking for $35-40M a year, from Washington, or whomever if it won't, when he's a free agent. He IS a Boras client.

Meanwhile, just how much is Heyward's defense worth, when he doesn't have a corner OF's bat, and when the Braves didn't  play him much at center, for various reasons?

Some might cite Roberto Clemente. Cite away. He had a great arm, but B-Ref gives him "just" 12 career dWAR. Plus, while WAR itself still draws critics, dWAR, and defensive sabermetrics in general, draw even more.

Hence, this piece by Sports Illustrated, attempting to suss out various GMs on just what Heyward is worth. You'll see that they're all over the place.

Anyway, Mo should be prepared to spend money. As I've noted before, Holliday has just one year left, unless the team picks up his option in 2017, which it might make sense not to do. And, it's got a new TV contract in 2018. (But, per the update in red, he's apparently quite prepared to not spend money.)

There is one complicating factor. Reportedly, Mo won't get the chance to make an ultra-final counteroffer if the Cubs, the Nats or a mystery team tops him; Heyward will simply take the best offer he has. And, we have just seen that happen.

Two final thoughts.

One is that Davis is about three and a half years older than Heyward. Another is that, for their careers, Heyward's left-right batting splits are 15 OPS+ points worse than Davis'.

And, Ccll it a silver lining, sour grapes, or whatever. Heyward's value lies primarily in his D, but he's going from baseball's fifth-largest park, by fair territory (and infields are all the same, of course), to second-smallest. Cubs, even at this price, may well have overpaid.

As for the idea of him playing center, since last year's Cubs incumbent, Dexter Fowler, is a free agent himself, with below-average skills there?

The Cardinals and Braves combined played Heyward just 32 games in CF. Per Baseball-Reference, going by range factor per nine innings, he was pretty well below average. Call it small sample size or whatever, but the Braves had five years to try to convert him to a center fielder, and didn't.

And, they didn't have defensive geniuses in center in Atlanta. For 2010-11, it was Nate McLouth, not anybody's idea of a great defensive player; for 2012, Michael Bourn, who had one of his good years in CF defensively. For 2013-14, it was Melvin Upton, OK-plus the first year and OK-minus the second, but so much teh suck with the bat that the Barves should have benched him, moved Heyward to CF and started somebody else, like Toe Jam, in right.

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