Note: this post was published earlier today at FOX Sports, before reports surfaced that Heyward has reached an agreement with the Chicago Cubs.
Look towards the top of any list of free agents available this off-season and you’ll find Jason Heyward’s name. There are good reasons for this. Sure, he’s polite at parties, never leaves the seat up, and always holds the door open for the elderly, but it’s more than that. He’s got perhaps the most well-rounded set of skills the free-agent market has ever seen. He’s got a career wRC+ of 118, so he can hit; he’s got some power in there, as well as on-base ability; he’s an excellent baserunner and a superb fielder. There’s really nothing that Heyward doesn’t do well, and when you add his age into the equation, that’s when things get silly, financially speaking. Ah, his age. That’s really the crux of this whole thing.
Heyward is 26 all year, so unlike most free agents, the team that signs him will get his peak seasons. There are some players who have many of Heyward’s abilities but who won’t approach what he’s expected to get. Ben Zobrist, for instance, is an interesting comparison. He’s a good fielder, a smart baserunner, he has some pop in his bat and he’s exhibited about as much on-base ability as Heyward has. He also plays 70 positions despite baseball not having that many. But Zobrist was born in May, 1981, meaning he’ll be 35 years old next season. Heyward was born in August of 1989, so he’ll be 26. This is why Zobrist just signed with the Cubs for four years, $56 million while Heyward is expected to more than double both the total years as well as the AAV of Zobrist’s contract. Imagine if you could go back in time and sign Ben Zobrist for 10 years beginning at his age-26 season. In today’s market, that would be a bargain.