The Rundown: Heyward Contract Shouldn’t Prevent Cubs from Spending, Bellinger Potential Could Outweigh Risk, Collusion Investigation in NY

If some Cubs fans have their way, they’ll spend decades lamenting Chicago’s front office for the eight-year, $184 million contract Jason Heyward was given in 2015. The Cubs wouldn’t have won the World Series without Heyward, but I’m not going to discuss that. It’s true that the veteran outfielder was only worth 8.2 fWAR over the life of his deal. It’s also true the Cubs will pay him $22 million to play elsewhere in 2023. That’s not a good example of intelligent spending.

However, Heyward’s deal shouldn’t prevent the Cubs from pursuing Carlos Correa or any of the other top shortstops this winter. Some overwhelming contracts pay off and Jon Lester is a great example. To say Correa isn’t worth $290-300 million over nine or 10 years ignores the economics of baseball, which has a demand-driven financial system. If you want to accumulate wins in bunches, you must pay a premium price for the game’s best players.

It’s easy to say in hindsight that the Cubs made a mistake with Heyward but it’s not that simple. He was coming off of a walk year where he was worth 5.6 fWAR. He chose Chicago even though other teams, including the Cardinals, offered more money. His decision signaled to the rest of the league that the North Side was the place for premium, high-priced talent, so much so that he took a discount to sign. That’s worth its weight in gold. Correa would similarly be the pheromone that attracts other great players to Wrigley Field.

Additionally, and I won’t say it was outright collusion, GMs scaled back considerably on contract offers after Heyward signed. The veteran right fielder was awarded one of seven nine-figure contracts that winter, and the only outfielder to get one. Yoenis Céspedes was the only player to get a nine-figure deal in 2016 when he signed for $110 million. Three players joined in 2017: J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, and Eric Hosmer. In 2018, Patrick Corbin, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper joined that club. As front offices started scaling back, Heyward’s contract looked more egregious. His performance didn’t help.

Correa is one of four premium shortstops available. Using the rate of inflation as a measure, the $28.16 million Heyward earned in 2017 would be worth about $34.3 million today. Correa will be 28 when he signs his next deal, a year older than Heyward was in 2015. In baseball’s financial ecosystem, it’s more than reasonable to expect that Correa is worth $30-32 million per year. That’s actually a bargain. Yes, regression and/or injuries are known risks, especially when Correa was fighting rumors about a bad back last year at this time.

I’d be more concerned with the language of the deal than just dollars. Will a no-trade clause, either full or limited, be included? Will either side ask for opt-outs or option years? Intelligent spending means remaining as flexible as possible in the present and the future. If money is your only reservation, don’t let it be. I like the way Matthew Trueblood answers that concern.

“Those numbers sound gaudy. Tough. Get used to it. That’s the reality of the sport right now, and Correa is going to get that kind of payday somewhere. The Cubs are well-positioned to be the place where it happens, and they shouldn’t miss the opportunity.”

In fact, Trueblood states that if the Cubs are going to pursue a shortstop this winter, it has to be Correa. He’s the whole package and the most consistent of the group that includes Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson. In other words, there’s less quantifiable risk that Correa’s deal will age poorly.

Trueblood wraps it up by indicating Correa is worth $333 million over nine seasons, though he includes more creative options to lure the shortstop to Chicago. If Jed Hoyer can sign him on a slightly more conservative deal, he shouldn’t hesitate.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Good morning Sammy Sosa and Mark Grace.

Thursday Stove

Major League Baseball has opened an investigation into the Yankees and Mets to determine if their owners improperly communicated about the free agency of Aaron Judge, according to Ken Rosenthal.

The Blue Jays and Mariners have agreed on a trade that will send outfielder Teoscar Hernández to Seattle for pitchers Erik Swanson and Adam Macko.

The Blue Jays have a strong interest in Brandon Nimmo, so the Hernández trade might be a precursor to another significant move. The Mariners could be chasing Nimmo, too. Seattle’s front office presumably desires an upgrade over Jarred Kelenic and would like to trade Jesse Winker, as well.

Bryce Harper will have UCL surgery next Wednesday. It is unknown if he will have Tommy John surgery or an internal brace procedure that has a faster recovery, so his timetable to return in 2023 is unknown. Harper has been playing with a torn ligament in his elbow since April.

The Red Sox would like to keep Bogaerts and Rafael Devers on the left side of their infield, so they’ve “sweetened” their offers to both.

Cubs GM Carter Hawkins compared this year’s GM Meetings to the Winter Meetings and he’s apparently not alone. Boston has reportedly made offers to several top free agents.

Verlander and Sandy Alcantara were unanimous winners of the National and American League Cy Young awards. Dylan Cease of the White Sox finished second in the AL.

Verlander has built a Hall of Fame résumé that includes three Cy Young awards, two rings, nine All-Star selections, Rookie of the Year, and MVP.

Munetaka Murakami, the record-setting third baseman for the Yakult Swallows, hopes to make the jump to MLB soon. Murakami hit 56 home runs in 2022, breaking the record set by Sadaharu Oh.

CBS Sports named its top 20 prospects for 2023, headed by shortstop Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles. No Cubs made the list, in case you’re wondering.

The 2023 Spring Training schedule will include 20 exhibition games featuring Major League teams competing with World Baseball Classic teams. The Cubs will host Team Canada on March 8.

Extra Innings

Still tough to see Billy Williams in Oakland green. We called those A’s teams “the Green Goons” because players like Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Ray Fosse, and Gene Tenace looked like they walked out of Heinold’s First & Last Chance Saloon and onto the baseball diamond.

Thursday Morning Six-Pack

  1. The Bears signed former first-round pick Taco Charlton off of the Saints’ practice squad. The veteran edge rusher is a placeholder at the very least until the offseason when Chicago is expected to overhaul its defense in the draft and in free agency. If Charlton can finally reach his potential, credit Poles with the steal.
  2. The 3-7 Bears could run the table with seven straight losses, but the future is incredibly bright thanks to Justin Fields, a plethora of draft picks, and an obscene amount of cap space that is nearly 10 times the amount of their closest cap competitor in the NFC North.
  3. Do you know who had one of the coolest sports logos ever? The Chicago Sting. Oh for the days of Karl-Heinz Granitza, Charlie Fajkus, Rudy Glenn, and Arno Steffenhagen. Yes, I still have World Cup fever.
  4. A previously unreleased scene from the comedy classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles has been released in anticipation of the film’s upcoming 35th anniversary. The reason it hit the cutting room floor is obvious.
  5. Working at Twitter under Elon Musk is going to feel a lot like being part of the chain gang in the movie Cool Hand Luke. I wonder if minor violations will be punished by “a night in the box.” Come to think of it, Musk reminds me of a younger Clifton James.
  6. James also played Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out. He was a brilliant character actor. “29 is not 30, Eddie. You will get only the money you deserve.”

They Said It

  • “We’re going to leverage as much as we can to help the players. A big part of what we’ve done at the minor league level is really simplifying our messaging. There’s a lot of minutiae that goes on with hitting. All of that has value. There are little things here and there that will help each and every player. But as a group we made our messaging really, really simple. Making good swing decisions, making quality contact, and doing damage.” – Kelly

Thursday Walk-Up Song

This song still slaps in my opinion. Carlos Santana is such a timeless guitar player.

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