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Nelson Cruz contract shows why Jason Heyward was a bargain for St. Louis Cardinals

In a move that makes it more obvious why the St. Louis Cardinals would opt to trade a young, cheap starting pitcher for an outfielder who can be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, the Seattle Mariners will pay Nelson Cruz $57 million for four years.

The deal is contingent on a physical, according to ESPN.

That's a steep price to pay for a fly chaser who will turn 35 before the 2015 All-Star Game. Especially one who is iffy in the field to start with. Will Cardinals fans ever forget his less than stellar play that allowed David Freese to triple with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series?

Cruz, a career .268 hitter, has averaged just under 20 home runs a season over his 10-year career. But most of it was played in extremely hitter-friendly ballparks in Texas and Baltimore. I wonder how he'll fare in spacious Safeco Field, the ballpark that caused Ken Griffey Jr. to demand to be traded away from Seattle.

The Cardinals would be much better off signing their trade target, Jason Heyward, to an extension if he proves to be a good fit in St. Louis. Heyward is nearly a decade younger, is a superb outfielder and is a more multi-dimensional player that Cruz. I predicted it was going to take in the range of $100 million over five years to keep him if Heyward plays up to par in 2015. It was a number that was criticized by some readers. But, if Cruz is worth nearly $60 million, how could Heyward not be worth $90-$100 million?

Over the past five years, Cruz has been a 13.1 WAR player. Over the same stretch, Heyward is a 24.5 WAR player. And, while Cruz is heading into his decline phase, Heyward is just starting his prime.

So... It's going to be steep to re-sign Heyward. But if the Cardinals are successful in doing so, they'll get a guy who is more likely to be a franchise cornerstone over the next decade. Cruz, if he were playing in St. Louis instead of the DH league, would have increasingly become a defensive liability and an injury concern.

Besides, Heyward was an extremely popular player in Atlanta. If his play and his personality lead to an avalanche of No. 22 jerseys and tickets being sold, it only helps the bottom line.

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