For all we know and must emotionally accept at this moment, the Chicago Cubs are fiscally restrained from making a huge splash in free agency (or even a modest splash?) until and unless they either get special approval from ownership or find a way to ship out significant salary.
Obvious options to accomplish the latter are few and far between, when you consider that most of the guys with sizable salaries are realistically untradable (either by virtue of their performance or by virtue of the Cubs’ need to keep them).
One guy who comes up most frequently in these conversations, for obvious financial and positional reasons, is Jason Heyward. The 29-year-old outfielder is owed $106 million over the next five years, and, although that’s nowhere close to what he’d get on the open market, as a baseball player, he’s still worth having on your club at some price point. Trading him in a deal that makes sense for the Cubs would necessarily require significant creativity, and might even only make sense in that instance if paired with a signing like Bryce Harper.
When we looked at the matter, the best fit we could come up with for a creative swap is with the Giants, and even that one was not my favorite move.
Nick Cafardo offers another plausible fit in a deal – though not necessarily a bad contract swap, just a eat-a-bunch-of-money deal – in his latest: “There’s been talk about trying to move the remaining $106 million of Heyward’s deal, with the Cubs having to subsidize a certain amount in order to pave the way for bigger signings, but it seems unlikely they can find a team willing to take it on. The Braves could be a possibility for a return engagement for Heyward after they lost Nick Markakis, but the Cubs would likely have to take on more than half of the remaining deal. The Braves now seem more inclined to address a starter and a reliever. This one could be tough for the Cubs.”
Realistically, Heyward’s value on this market is not going to exceed something like $40 million (spread over however many years you like). That seems to be the amount a team could justify risking in a total guarantee on the hope that his slow turnaround with the bat the last two years will bring him back to his version of normal in the next two or three years. Obviously, if Heyward plays Heyward defense and posts a 115 wRC+ over the next five years, the Cubs would be perfectly happy just keeping him on his contract. But because that’s a remote possibility at this point, any team taking him on would bake in that risk and pay a price accordingly. To me, if Andrew McCutchen gets $50 million and Michael Brantley gets $32 million in this market, Heyward – at most – could hope to be worth something in the middle.
At that point, you’re taking about selling Heyward to the Braves for a pretty minimal salary savings spread over the next five years. Does it get the Cubs Harper? If so, cool, do it. But you’re talking about $40 million set against $300+ million … in other words, *THAT* kind of Heyward trade should absolutely NOT be the difference between getting a player like Harper and not. If the Cubs can afford Harper with $66 million of Heyward still on the books, then they absolutely can afford him with $106 million of Heyward on the books.
So how could a Braves trade work out? Well, that’s why I didn’t see them as a great fit when I was thinking about this kind of swap in the first place. To me, the “best” version of a Heyward deal is one that swaps bad contracts while saving the Cubs *some* money in the deal itself, and then saving quite a bit of money by filling needs with those bad contracts (i.e., bad reliever contracts for decent relievers, or a bad catcher contract for a back-up catcher, would be ideal fits).
Really the only player on the Braves’ roster that kinda fits is reliever Darren O’Day, but you’re talking about a whopping $9 million in 2019. That’s it. I don’t know how far that’s going to get you in figuring out a great fit for these two teams.
Still, the Braves are in the market for an outfielder trade:
As year winds down, #Braves still have needs including corner OF and pitching (rotation & pen). Given apparent limited funds, I still think trade(s) makes most sense. Dbacks seem like strong potential partner with 2 yrs of affordable control of Peralta and, if available, LH Ray.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) December 30, 2018
Heyward, with ties to the Braves and a veteran leadership ability, might be a good fit for the Braves at this point in time. I can at least see it. With a strong offensive core, maybe offensive impact is not their main priority in the outfield. I won’t presume to speak for them …
With Cafardo’s mention and the Braves’ need, sure, I can consider this on the periphery of the radar. But for an actual trade to go down, I just think the Braves would have to value Heyward in a way that goes far beyond my evaluation of the market, or the Cubs would have to be absolutely desperate to part with whatever tiny bit of salary they can.
And, in that latter case, since landing Harper is not a guarantee, I’d just rather see the Cubs hang onto Heyward.