Over the off-season, Jason Heyward signed an 8 year/184 million dollar contract with the Chicago Cubs. At the time of the signing, a lot of reporters liked the deal because adding a player like Heyward to the already loaded Cubs made them look like a World Series favorite. The Cubs are still one of the favorites to win the World Series but I wonder if some would go back on the deal if they could now.
Heyward’s contract was without a question the result of baseball’s growing use of sabermetrics in the sport. Over the past two seasons, Heyward has been a top 10 player in the game when looking at WAR (11.3). Over the same period, he has saved 15 more runs than any other outfielder in baseball (48). Heyward had a solid season last year hitting .293 and had a .359 OBP but the contract is a representation of Heyward as a defensive player as much as it is him as a hitter. Baseball is beginning to not just value what players do at the plate but what they do on the base paths and as fielders. This is not the first time we have seen a player’s contract be reflected by advanced sabermetrics because the Los Angeles Angels’ Andrelton Simmons comes to mind when thinking about a guy who was paid more for his defense than his offense. I am not saying that baseball should not value defense and base-running but I do not believe players should get paid superstar money just because their WAR is off the charts.
If I were to give a player a contract like Heyward, I would expect big time returns. My main focus would not be how many defensive runs saved the player has or his WAR. What I would want is a guy to hit 25+ home runs and drive in 100+ RBI. Now I know RBI are a team statistic and depends where a guy hits in the order but superstar players are expected to put up big time numbers. After Sunday, Heyward is hitting .228/.318/.315 with 4 home runs and 28 RBI. I wanted to throw in the RBI because the Cubs offense is a top offense in baseball and there are plenty of RBI opportunities in that lineup.
Now I will not call the Heyward contract a bust because it has only been 3 and a half months. If I was Theo Epstein and the Cubs, I would be very concerned. Heyward hasn’t really shown signs of coming out of his season long slump. I think the advanced sabermetrics are valuable in today’s game but I do not think they should be used to determine a player’s dollar value.