The Cubs reeled in a very big fish today; one that will definitely rock the boat, and also send a ripple effect throughout the entire pond. Jason Heyward is a Chicago Cub, and the rest of the league may be left wondering if they “need a bigger boat”.
Make no mistake about it, this acquisition is monumental from both a symbolic and a material perspective. The Cubs have acquired arguably the Cardinals’ best player, bolstering Chicago’s lineup and defense while subtracting from their main rival. His impact will be immediate both in his plate discipline and his superb fielding skills but this is not just about his physical presence but also what his signing symbolizes for the Chicago Cubs and the league at large.
In bright and bold lettering: THE CUBS ARE BACK. Relegated to laughing stock status for the better part of the last decade (and vast swaths of the previous century), these Cubs are officially the team to beat heading into the 2016 season. Sure, that’s just on paper but given the team’s success last year breaking in a mostly young group under a new manager, it’s hard not to dream big with this club’s expectations next year. Theo Epstein and Co., to their great credit, delivered on their promise of building a contender and in a relatively short time frame. It wasn’t always pretty, easily apparent, or popular but this management group laid an incredibly strong foundation and are now reaping the benefits their prowess and discipline have sown.
Committing $184 million over eight years to one player is the type of move that puts other teams on notice. They are a big-time contender who is “All-In” in 2016. The fever pitch will reach crescendo this impending spring and with it will come the expectations that all highly-touted teams are saddled with. They will be heavy and tangible and it will be up to Joe Maddon and his veterans to guide these sophomores through pressures never felt to heights never seen.
It’s hard to articulate just how truly epic signing Jason Heyward is. You cannot truly appreciate what signing a player to this type of deal is like until you crawl through the mud and muck that was the Cubs from 2010-2014. Never making the big splash. Trading off your assets for prospects. Repeatedly finishing last in your division. Entire seasons over by the end of July. A 100 loss season. All of that makes this day that much sweeter. The excitement on twitter today is proof of just how important today was to the two primary fan bases affected. For the Cardinals, it was complete dejectedness with some bitterness and embarrassing sour grapes thrown in. For the Cubs, it was unbridled elation; the future foretold of in 2010 has finally arrived.
It’s not just Jason Heyward, but man, is he a BIG piece. He boasts a career .268/.353/.431 slash line and will most likely begin his Cubs career in CF, although that could change pending on whether or not Jorge Soler is moved for starting pitching. Heyward also ranks 5th in WAR (12.7) by position players over the last two seasons. His defense is excellent, saving 122 runs since the start of the 2010 season, the most in baseball during that time frame. He is also 26 meaning he is just entering his prime. All this adds up to a home run for the Cubs even though Heyward is not known for his long ball. It’s being reported that he turned down more money from the Cards and Nats to play in Chicago, showing that you really can’t put a price on how valuable Theo, Maddon, and Ricketts have been in turning this team around. Free agents want to come here, young players want to stay here, and fans should turn out in droves to cheer this squad on.
Signing a Jason Heyward is a marquee acquisition but add in Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Adam Warren and the Cubs are clearly winning this off-season. They also may not be done as many sources say they are still looking to make a deal for another starter with the Padres’ Tyson Ross, the Indian’s Carlos Carrasco, and several Tampa Bay Rays out there as possibilities.
This team will have a huge target on their back as the calendar turns and hopefully they can embrace the challenge and are careful not to let the “pressure exceed the pleasure”. Good times loom ahead on the North Side as winter hasn’t felt this warm in years.
GO CUBS GO!