Here it is, the decision you’ve all been waiting for: Jason Heyward has decided to … not opt out of his contract with the Chicago Cubs. Gasp! Shock!
Please tell the elderly members of your family carefully, as the news might be too much for them to handle (I’m just glad Brett was sitting down when I told him).
If you think back to the day Heyward signed this deal with the Cubs, you might recall that while his overall commitment was quite strong (8 years, $184M), Heyward was also able to grab not one, but two opt-outs in his deal. The first was scheduled for after the 2018 season (i.e. right now), regardless of playing time, and the second – coming after next season – is conditional (Heyward only gets the opt-out if he takes 550 plate appearances in 2019).
At the time, Heyward was coming off another 5.0+ WAR season with the Cardinals, had just turned 26, and we had hope that the Cubs could unlock some of that dormant power he hadn’t shown since 2012. Unfortunately, things went hard in the other direction (72 wRC+, 1.0 WAR) – minus a great rain delay speech – during his first season in Chicago and things didn’t get much better in 2017, either (88 wRC+, 1.0 WAR).
With that said, he was basically a league average bat this season (99 wRC+) and doubled his overall value (2.0 WAR), but there was almost no way he was going to opt-out regardless of how well he played in 2018, and certainly nothing he did this season changed that. His defense and baserunning remain great, and he’s still viewed as a good presence in the clubhouse. He’s a useful guy to have on the club, even if his contract quickly became wildly discordant with his actual value.
The Cubs owe Heyward $20M in 2019, $21M in 2020, $21M in 2021, and $22M in 2022 and 2023, and I expect they’ll pay all $106M of it one way or another, either in salary or in depressed value via some future trade. Speaking of which, I should point out that although Heyward had full no-trade protection for his first three seasons, he has only limited no-trade rights the next couple seasons (he can block deals to only 12 clubs in 2019-2022). HOWEVER, after 2020, he’ll have 10-5 rights no-trade rights, which means he can block deals to any club. So, in reality, if the Cubs were interested in trading Heyward, this offseason (or next) might be their only realistic time to do it. But that’s a story for another day.
For now, just note that Heyward and the Cubs are still married and, you have to continue to hope for the best while planning to make offensive additions where possible.