According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the Chicago Cubs, despite signing Ben Zobrist to a four year, $56 million deal two days ago, are "remaining aggressive" in free agency (and the trade market, for that matter) and "appear willing to play Jason Heyward in center field." This should come as no surprise, either, despite scattered mentions of possible payroll restrictions associated with the transfer of organizational ownership over to the Ricketts family back in 2009.
Yet, per Forbes, the Cubs are the fifth most valuable team in Major League Baseball, so I find it hard to believe that they would not be able to fund another major free agent acquisition—especially one that would immediately make them the favorite for that ever so elusive World Series title (if they aren’t the favorite already, that is). Plus, roughly half a decade has passed since the Ricketts family has taken over ownership, so it is logical to believe the team is able to flex its payroll muscle once again (an idea that is seemingly confirmed by this Chicago-Sun Times article). Admittedly, I do not know the inner workings of the Cubs' financial situation, so these restrictions very well may be true, but for the sake of this post, let's envision a hypothetical in which the Cubs do indeed outbid the Cardinals on the 26-year-old Heyward.
2016 Potential Starting Lineup
|Jon Lester/Jake Arrieta||P||31/29|
Without Heyward, the Cubs already project to be a tremendous threat to the Cardinals and Pirates, as dissected by editor Nick Lampe three days ago. With Heyward, a rather porous outfield defense (brought to light this past NLCS against the Mets) looks much less spacious to opposing hitters. And yes, Heyward will be just fine defensively in center field. There's a reason why Mike Matheny and the Cardinals were comfortable using him there during the playoffs.
While the Cubs offense is already quite potent (I won't soon forget the six-homer NLDS game against the Cardinals), you better believe Joe Maddon is salivating over the opportunity to utilize a high-contact, comparatively-low-strikeout hitter in his ever crafty lineups. Plus, for the "Heyward doesn't possess an impact bat" crowd, since he entered the league in 2010, his 118 wRC+ is 33rd overall among MLB outfielders and this would crack the top five if we looked at center fielders exclusively (his projected position with the Cubs).
What is especially frightening about the lineup listed in the table above is the average age of the position players: 25.875 years. Include likely utility man Javier Baez (23), and the average drops even lower to 25.556. With youth comes team control, and barring any unforeseen internal issues, this youthful core will remain together for the long haul. Yes, winter is most definitely coming (credit to Viva El Birdos community member Catapults).
Fortunately, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and much more importantly, the DeWitt family, appear open to the possibility of straying from their customary approach to big-time free agents, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
"Sometimes you have to do things that get you out of the comfort zone. I'm not suggesting that that's exactly what we'll do. But my point is think back over the last few years and the model was definitely working. But the game is changing a bit. Are we going to change with it? It's certainly something that we understand that we have to be cognizant of -- and willing to accept."
Sure, this is yet another example of MoSpeak™, and I am fully aware that the Cardinals have yet to add a big name free agent this offseason (despite giving David Price a more than respectable offer). The moves already made, though minor, will likely prove to be even more fruitful than they are currently being projected (with some merely being an addition by subtraction). Now, unless a deal for a starting pitcher is served on a silver platter to Mr. Mozeliak, there really is only one big move to make at this point: Sign Jason Heyward.
Frankly, I'm not ready to endure a northern-Chicago-based nightmare.