After winning game one of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals lost the next three—resulting in their fourth straight postseason exit involving three straight losses to close the series. For the first time during Mike Matheny's tenure (2012 to present), the Cardinals failed to reach the National League Championship Series. Many things can be taken away from what we just witnessed (and each one will be addressed on this site), but the main takeaway should be that a good portion of the Cardinals roster appeared tired and/or broken down.
After injuring and then re-injuring his quad, coupled with inevitable age-related decline, Matt Holliday, to be blunt, was a shell of himself. Yadier Molina, enduring a thumb ligament tear in his catching hand, uncharacteristically dropped numerous pitches in games one through three and could not participate in game four because he was not physically able to swing his axe-like-handled bat. Due to a balky elbow, Randal Grichuk was not able to throw without at least some restrictions. All-Star starting pitcher Carlos Martinez, and potential staff ace, was shut down prior to the postseason due to persisting shoulder tightness. Adam Wainwright, though he was able to make it back from an early-season Achilles tear, was limited to bullpen duty in the playoffs. Sadly, this is not even an exhaustive list of the team's injuries in 2015 (see: Matt Adams, Jon Jay, Jordan Walden, etc.).
Through it all, though, there was one constant for the entirety of 2015, and that was Jason Heyward. Despite some declaring the Cardinals "losers" of the Shelby Miller/Tyrell Jenkins-Heyward/Walden trade back in May, the 26-year-old outfielder, with the help of supreme defense, plus base-running, and a well above-average bat, put forth the team's best overall fWAR at 6.0, a value that trailed only Bryce Harper (9.5) among MLB right fielders. Unfortunately, 2015 was the final year of a two-year, arbitration-avoiding extension he had signed while with the Atlanta Braves. Spring training passed without the two reaching a deal (with the club stating they wanted to feel out the relationship first). No real contract extension discussions occurred by the All-Star break. And now, the Cardinals' offseason has officially begun, and there is still no deal in place.
While the Cardinals would probably be "okay" with a 2016 outfield of Stephen Piscotty, Grichuk, Holliday, Jay, and Tommy Pham, what occurred this season should serve as a sign that depth should not be considered a commodity but rather, a necessity. Plus, at their respective peaks (and I am looking prospectively here), none of those players previously listed project to be worth 5-6 fWAR in a single season, a feat achieved by Heyward already three times in six big league seasons (and almost four times considering he was worth 4.7 fWAR as a rookie in 2010).
Plus, contractually, Jay is off the books completely after next season, and given what the team dealt with regarding Holliday's injuries, it may be logical for the front office to buy out his 2017 option (for $1 million). As you can see, depth evaporates quickly. Sure, players like Charlie Tilson and Anthony Garcia have the potential to become MLB contributors as soon as next season, but again, their respective MLB ceilings likely don't surpass even Heyward's floor.
A Video-Supported Appreciation of Jason Heyward's Toolbox
5) Hit for Power
Please note that I have always disliked the "it's only money" stance, but at the same time, I do not like the "it's not your money to spend" argument, either. The Cardinals are worth an incredible amount of money. Prior to their deals with Fox Sports Midwest and KMOX, they were already valued at $1.4 billion by Forbes, the fifth highest in MLB. The money is there, and it will be growing for a very long time. Signing Jason Heyward should not be considered a "want" over the offseason, but rather, a "need." Whether we want to believe it or not, the team's core of Wainwright, Molina, Holliday, Peralta, and Carpenter is aging, and where better to start in solidifying the next core (Martinez, Piscotty, Rosenthal, etc.) than a 26-year-old All-Star entering the prime of his big league career.
While it should not be considered "news" by any means, the following is definitely a solid starting point:
Impending free-agent Jason Heyward on possibly coming back to #STLCards: "This is definitely an ideal situation."— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) October 14, 2015
Finally, when considering Heyward's potential price tag, one must look at the current market value for free agent acquisitions as well as the overall value a player provides to the team (read: Matt Holliday's deal signed in 2010 is no longer relevant). In terms of value added, Heyward helps the offense with not only his bat but also his legs (both stealing and taking the extra base) and helps his pitchers with not only his glove, but his legs and arm as well. When the $200+ million figure gets thrown around, know that when time comes for spring training, Heyward will still only be 26.5 years of age. Many of the $200+ million deals we have seen have occurred with players at or very near the age of 30.