Since I have time off for Thanksgiving, I've decided to start a series of posts which will dive into the Cardinals' position players. I'll look at their performance over their career, to give us an idea on how their 2015 and beyond may look, and also what their value has been, in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and in Salary (How much were the worth in a given year).
You may ask why I'm only doing positional players. For one, it would take a tremendous amount of time to do pitchers as well, though I may attempt it down the road. And two, methodology to determine WAR and Salary for pitchers is quite a bit more arbitrary and unreliable (For example, Phil Hughes had a higher WAR among pitchers than Wainwright, Cueto, Sale, Zimmerman ect. according to Fangraphs) For now, I'll do all positional starters and possibly a few bench players.
So without further ado, let's dive in.
When I heard Heyward was traded to the Cardinals, I had to do a double take. When I found out who it was for, I did a triple take. For the last four years, all I've heard about is how Heyward is a defensive wizard and a cornerstone for the Braves franchise along with Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons. And though Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins were both well-regarded prospects/players, getting an All-Star caliber Right Fielder and Set-up man in return seemed like a steal. But like most cases, peel off the top layer and you'll always see there is more to find.
Heyward, who turned 25 in August, will be in his final year of club control in 2015. This means at the end of the season, barring an extension, he will become a free agent. That means Cardinals must commit to an extension, or risk re-signing him when he hits the open market. Seems simple enough, as Cards did it many times before with core players like Matt Holliday. And usually, it isn't too hard to set negotiation talks, but as you'll see going forward, Heyward's case is difficult.
By The Numbers:
When I say Heyward will be more difficult to sign to an extension, it isn't because he is greedy or arrogant, in fact he is probably one of the most humble and respectable players in the game today. It's more about, where to start? The chart below, listed chronologically, shows Heyward's WAR and Value (What the FA market would give him if he hit open market; in Millions) by year, also the mean (averaged) WAR and the mean Value per any given year:
The first thing you'll notice is that each year Heyward seemed to alternate. His rookie campaign (2010), was solid any way you slice it up, and in that year you could consider him a solid three-hole hitter. If it wasn't for Buster Posey, Heyward would have taken home the Rookie of the Year Award. His second year, bares a different story. Though his power was still present, his AVG and OBP plummeted. And if it wasn't for solid defense, he might even dip into a negative WAR. His 2012 campaign served to be his most powerful year, and though is OBP is lower than most years, he showed legitimate power potential, and served more as a 4-hole hitter. His fourth year was similar to his sophomore year, with better On-base skills. And this last season, he looked more like a 2-hole hitter, with his lowest power numbers yet, but a very solid OBP.
Did you notice yet? Each year he was a different type of player. Though all five years he was an excellent defender, he showed little constancy.
First Year: Three-Hole hitter
Second Year: Six-Seven-Hole hitter
Third Year: Four-Hole hitter
Fourth Year: Five-Six-Hole hitter
Fifth Year: Two-Hole hitter
Each year, it's like he had a different skill-set. This is why the Braves had trouble holding on to him. Though still young at 25, it's a little scary trying to figure out what to do with him. I've read numerous articles that plead that the Cardinals should lock him up as quick as possible, and as much as I would love to see Heyward a Cardinal for the rest of his career, it's not that simple. We are in a Free Agent market where offense is expensive, and given Heyward has the potential for both solid offense and defense, that only increases his value more. But the biggest dispute lies in two areas; A). Which Jason Heyward will be performing in most years of his contract? and B). How much does defense add to a contract? And at this point, there may not be a clear answer for either of these questions.
What there is an answer for, however, is how the market has payed for players similar to Heyward. Below is a chart that compares Heyward to Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Kemp from the 2010 season through the 2014 season:
Two things immediately jump out, 1). Though Heyward's WAR and Value have been higher over the 5 season stretch, his slash line is weaker than that of the other three. 2). He is much younger, compared to the other three. The reason I compared him to these three is they are all similar in the fact of speedy outfielders with great gloves and a pop in their bat, (or had these things during the time period). And yes, even though offensively the other three were more consistent and/or better, Heyward being only 25 has plenty of room to grow. And even still, overall it seems Heyward has been overall a better player in that span. Even with his inconstancies, he was still attractive enough for the Cardinals to pull the trigger on a trade. So now that we know he stacks up pretty well against these three, let's see how the market rewarded Ellsbury, Gonzalez and Kemp:
You can see that the peak of all three player's contracts hover around the 20 million mark. And the scary part about this? The offensive market is more scarce than when these contracts were signed. After the deals the Boston Red Sox handed out this week, it became even more evident that teams will overpay for any offensive talent, and if Kemp Ellsbury or Gonzalez hit the market today, they would clear way more than 20 million a year. And referencing back to the first table that showed Heyward's overall value, his 162-Game averaged value is $20.2 million. Doesn't seem like a coincidence now, huh?
What's To Come?:
To be blunt, Heyward's 2015 will determine the path for the rest of his career. As of now, he looks to not only be the top OF available, but maybe the top position player available as well. The difference this season makes, is how much over or under 20 million he gets annually, and how many teams will pursue him. But if he performs like, or worse, than his 2014 season, he might actually stop the trend, and receive less than 20 million a year.
However, I think this is unlikely. Given his tools and his 2012 power surge, there is little doubt he has it in him. And if it is a matter of getting it out, there isn't a much better place than with the Cardinals' coaching staff and the environment. Below are my projection of what his 2015 will be. Bear in mind, of course it won't be 100% accurate, as no projection is, but it is what would make sense considering his previous production:
This may be a conservative estimate, or it could be too far. I feel his average won't go up or down significantly, his OBP will increase (look at Heywards Walk and Strikeout rate, the last three years his Walks are up, and S/Os are down), his SLG will increase, (He'll hit 15-20 HRs) with stellar defense once again. And to reiterate, he could be a lot of different players, but all things being equal, his stats should look somewhat similar.
Now for his contract. The Cardinals are very conservative when it comes to opening their checkbook, as the last major deal signed before Jhonny Peralta, was Matt Holliday back in 2009. But I imagine they wouldn't give up 4 years of Shelby Miller and a prospect to only have one year of Heyward. I believe that an extension will be reached, but the question is when and how much? They could go for it in Spring Training, but may have to pay more to do it. Or they could wait and see if he falls in love with STL, and hopes he takes a little discount. But that risks him performing like 2012 and being worth much more than he would have. I have no idea when, but I feel the Cardinals will sign him to an extension, give the unfortunate loss of Oscar Taveras and franchise cornerstones like Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday are all pushing into their mid-30s.
If I had to guess, a deal like 7 Years/150 million or 8 Years/160 million would be in both the club's and Heyward's comfort zone.
Researching all of this has raised a ton of questions, and even as you stare all these numbers in the face, these questions still lack a definitive answer. But what I do know is this; the Cardinals' 2015 lineup is much, much better now that they have a 5-tool player like Heyward there. And no matter what happens, he should be on his way to his first deep playoff run in his career, with another Gold Glove caliber season.