With the signing of outfielder Jason Heyward, the Chicago Cubs have now made themselves the favorites in the National League.
By Patrick Brewer
The first major free agent outfield domino has fallen. Jason Heyward has finally chosen where he will call home the next several years.
After signing John Lackey and Ben Zobrist, and trading Starlin Castro, the Chicago Cubs have now gotten even better with the signing of Jason Heyward to a contract that is believed to be for around eight years and in the neighborhood of $180 million. After winning 97 games just one year ago, the Cubs have gotten even better and, more importantly, positioned themselves as the favorites in the entire National League.
After a 97 win season, and a NLCS appearance, the Chicago Cubs clearly have their sights set even higher for 2016. Their offseason flurry has made them even better than they were, and may put them as the best team in the entire National League. The Cubs now have a better pitching staff, a better second baseman, and a better overall outfield. In terms of WAR, the Cubs now have three of the top 20 positional players from last season currently on their roster. As it stands, the Cubs lineup looks something like this for next season:
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Jason Heyward, CF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Jorge Soler, RF
- Miguel Montero, C
- Addison Russell, SS
If that’s not the best lineup in the National League, it is certainly very close. Add in this pitching staff and the Cubs are clearly a force to be reckoned with:
- Jon Lester
- Jake Arrieta
- John Lackey
- Kyle Hendricks
- Jason Hammel
- Adam Warren
Given the reports that the Cubs are not yet done adding this offseason, there is a chance they could get even better in both the short term and the long term. Now that their lineup is more or less set, the Cubs are reportedly looking to move on to their starting pitching staff for further upgrades.
Rather than pursue any of the remaining free agent options, it appears the Cubs will explore a trade for a pitcher, with the Padres (Tyson Ross/Andrew Cashner/James Shields) and Indians (Carlos Carrasco/Danny Salazar) as the most likely fits.
With Heyward, not only is the Cubs offense better, but he will make the entire outfield better along with his own performance. It also benefits the Cubs greatly because Heyward also represents a significant loss for one of their main division rivals in the St. Louis Cardinals.
Not only did the Cubs add one of the best players in all of baseball, but they also took one of the best players in all of baseball from their rivals. The Cubs were only three wins behind the Cardinals last season, and may have surpassed them on this move alone.
For a more specific evaluation of what Heyward brings to the table for the Cubs, comparing his 2015 numbers to those of Dexter Fowler will illustrate what an upgrade he provides. In 2015, Fowler had a slash line of .250/.346/.411, a wRC+ of 110 and an overall WAR of 3.2. By comparison, Heyward had a slash line of .293/.359/.439, a wRC+ OF 121 and an overall WAR of 6.2.
No offense to Fowler, but Heyward was the much better player offensively. Defensively, Heyward also was a much better player than Fowler, with an UZR of 20.2 in right field last season compared to -2.7 for Dexter Fowler in center field. To further illustrate this point, Heyward actually had a better UZR in just over 50 innings in center field (2.3) than Fowler did in over 1,000 innings last season. Heyward is clearly not only a huge offensive upgrade for the Cubs, but also a huge defensive upgrade. Add that to his +3 WAR over Fowler and the Cubs look like they have cleared the ground that stood between themselves and the Cardinals.
As it currently stands, the Cubs may be the best team in the entire National League, if not all of baseball. If they add another pitcher, the Cubs may be the clear World Series favorites, although they may already be there even without that. The Cubs have three of the best position players in all of baseball, two of the best pitchers, and still have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. It’s unclear if dynasties are still possible in this new era of baseball, but the Chicago Cubs may be the closest to that possibility.
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