With the Jason Heyward hype reaching Weiterian levels — even Chipper Jones is getting into the act — it’s easy to convince yourself that the Braves are going to break camp with Heyward as their starting right fielder. Bryan Smith of FanGraphs, however, thinks everyone should just slow down. After citing the way the Rays handled Evan Longoria, he says:
There is simply no argument to be made that the marginal value gained by playing Jason Heyward over Matt Diaz for three weeks in April is worth losing Heyward’s rights for the 2016
season. Yes, calling him up on April 25 will mean that Heyward will be
a “Super Two”, and thus, eligible for arbitration a year early. But
arbitration contracts are still discounts over free agent ones, and I
can already promise you that Heyward’s first free agent contract will
be a big one. Without delving into the Heyward vs. Strasburg argument,
the Braves should certainly take note that Nats GM Mike Rizzo has
already written off his right-handed star beginning the season in
Washington. If you think it’s because they want some minor league
seasoning for him, you’re crazy — they just want an extra year of not
dealing with Scott Boras.
Excellent point. My only two objections — and I could be convinced to drop them — are:
(1) Unlike the 2010 Braves, the 2010 Nats don’t and the 2008 Rays didn’t truly expect to contend. Yes, the Rays did in fact contend — and how — but when the decision to keep Longoria down on the farm was made, I suspect that even the Rays’ brass had third place as their realistic goal. Atlanta, in contrast, truly stands a chance to compete with the Phillies this year. And remember: they could have made it a better competition last year if it wasn’t for the fact that they punted the outfield for three months, getting zilcho from anyone out there; and
(2) Braves fans really, really, really, really, really want to see Jason Heyward.
No, I don’t think that either of those two reasons trumps Bryan’s reasoning — no amount of April ticket sales or October playoff sales will outweigh what they’ll save by having Heyward locked up in 2016 — but those two things are likely going to weigh heavily on the minds of the Braves’ front office, so it’s a slightly less clear choice for them with Heyward than it was for the Rays with Longoria and the Nats with Strasburg.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.