Another major free agent has shunned the St. Louis Cardinals. And once again, it was one of their own.
Right fielder Jason Heyward came to terms with the Chicago Cubs on Friday, spurning offers from the Cardinals and Washington Nationals.
The signing was first reported by Gordon Wittenmyer, of the Chicago Sun-Times. The deal was later confirmed to be for eight years and $184 million, an average annual value of $23 million, and it includes two opt-outs.
8, $184M The years and dollar amount of the deal Heyward reached with the Cubs
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It was believed throughout the industry that Heyward and his agent, Casey Close, were seeking a 10-year deal worth an estimated $200 million. It was reported that the Cardinals and Nationals offered $200 million.
The Cubs signed another former Cardinals, free-agent right-hander John Lackey, to a two-year, $32 million contract Dec. 4. Lackey was 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA in 33 starts last season and will be Chicago’s No. 3 starter behind Jon Lester and National League Cy Young Award-winner Jake Arrieta.
St. Louis will gain three draft picks for losing Lackey and Heyward. One will come with the No. 28 pick in the first round; the other two will be compensatory selections between the first and second rounds.
Heyward, 26, batted .293 with 33 doubles, 13 home runs, 60 RBIs and 23 stolen bases for the Cardinals last season. He won an NL Gold Glove in right, although he is expected to play center field for the Cubs unless they trade right fielder Jorge Soler for a starting pitcher.
Heyward’s age was one of the leading assets in his favor as he hit the free-agent market for the first time. His career slash line is .268/.353/.431, but the Cubs are betting he will improve by playing half of his games at Wrigley Field.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Heyward has batted .311 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 25 career games at Wrigley Field, with a .376 on-base percentage and a .522 slugging percentage. He is a three-time Gold Glover.
Heyward has batted .311 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 25 career games at Wrigley Field
Heyward’s first scheduled appearance in St. Louis will be April 18 when the Cubs visit Busch Stadium for a three-game series. Chicago also is in St. Louis on May 23-25 and Sept. 12-14.
With Heyward out of the picture, the Cardinals could shift their sights on free-agent outfielder Alex Gordon, another polished defender who has primarily played left and is very similar to Heyward from an offensive standpoint.
Gordon, 31, is blocked in St. Louis by left fielder Matt Holliday, which means he would likely take over Heyward’s former spot in right.
Gordon, a left-handed hitter, batted .271 with 18 doubles, 13 homers and 48 RBIs in 104 games with the Kansas City Royals. His career slash line is .269/.348/.435.
Gordon also is represented by Close.
Another viable option for St. Louis would be to pursue free agent first baseman Chris Davis, who walloped 47 home runs and had 117 RBIs while batting .262 last season for the Baltimore Orioles.
Davis, 29, was offered a seven-year deal worth an estimated $150 million, but the Orioles took the offer off the table. If the Cardinals could land Davis, Stephen Piscotty could be the everday right fielder.
The Cardinals certainly have the financial means to land a player like Gordon, a four-time Gold Glove Award-winner.
St. Louis General Manager John Mozeliak reportedly came close to signing left-hander David Price before Price reached a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.
The Cardinals also negotiated with pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Mike Leake to fill a void in their rotation. But Samardzija signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. Leake remains unsigned.
Another possible fit for the Cardinals is Justin Upton, 28, who batted .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBIs in 150 games last season with the San Diego Padres. Upton has been a right fielder for the majority of his career and is a capable defensive player. One down side to signing Upton would be that he would give the Cardinals an all-right-handed-hitting outfield.
If the Cardinals look for a replacement via trade, they could turn to the Colorado Rockies, who have made Carlos Gonzalez available. Gonzalez, 30, is a left-handed hitter who batted .271 with 40 homers and 97 RBIs last season. His career line is .290/.347/.524 and he is a three-time Gold Glover.
The addition of Heyward makes the Cubs the overwhelming favorite to win the NL Central in 2016 after they finished third last season behind the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The addition of Heyward makes the Cubs the overwhelming favorite to win the NL Central in 2016
The Cubs have signed Lackey, Heyward and infielder-outfielder Ben Zobrist in the last week, and they traded second baseman Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for right-hander Adam Warren and former Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan on Tuesday.
Chicago defeated Pittsburgh to win the NL wild-card game, then ousted the Cardinals three games to one in the NL Division Series. The Cubs were swept by the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series.
Heyward played as advertised after coming to the Cardinals from the Atlanta Braves on Nov. 17, 2014, with reliever Jordan Walden for right-handers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Miller has since been traded by the Braves to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Heyward made 140 starts in right field and nine in center. After a first half in which he batted .273 with nine homers and 31 RBIs, Heyward batted .318 with four homers and 29 RBIs in the second half, with a .397 on-base percentage and a .469 slugging percentage.
Heyward seemed to enjoy his time in St. Louis and the Cardinals were viewed as the favorites to re-sign him. But Heyward didn’t want to negotiate a new contract during the season, and once he hit free agency, the landscape changed as teams began bidding for his services.
Cubs President Theo Epstein has long been a fan of Heyward’s, and the Cubs were apparently able to sell Heyward on the franchise’s 2015 success, their youthful foundation and Heyward’s effectiveness at Wrigley Field.
Chicago also was interested in reducing the number of strikeouts it had in its everyday lineup. Zobrist and Heyward represent upgrades in that category. The Cubs struck out a major league-high 1,518 times last season.
Since the end of the season, the Cardinals have lost Heyward, Lackey and Mark Reynolds (Colorado) to free agency. They have traded catcher Tony Cruz to Kansas City and outfielder Jon Jay to San Diego. Outfielder Peter Bourjos was claimed on waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies, and infielder Pete Kozma signed a minor-league contract with the New York Yankees.