Phillies Free Agent Preview: Jason Heyward


With the 2015 season shaping up as one of the worst in team history, it’s already time to start looking forward to 2016 and beyond. While there may not appear on the surface to be much promise for next year either, the first trickle of players from the minor leagues should begin arriving permanently at that point.

Aaron Nola should be a fixture in the rotation by next season at the latest, and top prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford looks like he might get a few plate appearances next year as well. Maikel Franco is establishing himself already as a force from the right side, and several young players such as Aaron Altherr and Kelly Dugan could also see playing time.

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Combine those youngsters with the possible returns from the anticipated trades of veterans Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, and there should be a nice nucleus of players to help the team usher in a new era of Phillies baseball.

Also over the next couple of seasons, free agency should prove an opportunity for the team to gather talent from outside of the organization. The available talent isn’t what it used to be, with teams locking up their own assets with contract extensions much more frequently these days, but there are still going to be players that the Phillies should be looking at.

What I’ll be doing in a new series here at TBOH is to begin looking at some of those possible free agent players. I’ll be looking to see if there is talent that might fit into the Phillies’ plans, both short term and long term. I’ll also explore why I feel these players could make for worthy targets for the Phils’ new management team to pursue.

The first name I’ll start with is current Saint Louis Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward.

A little background: Heyward was the Atlanta Braves’ 1st round draft pick in 2007, going 14th overall. He quickly rose through the Braves minor league system, becoming the top prospect in many eyes prior to his big league debut in 2010.

That year, Heyward exploded on the scene, homering in his first Major League at-bat. He went on to produce a .277/.393/.456 rookie slash line, with 18 home runs, 72 RBI, a 131 OPS+, and an All-Star game appearance. For all that, he finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

Since then, Heyward has been seen by some as a disappointment. He’s never gotten above a 117 OPS+ again. While he did hit 27 home runs in 2012, he sacrificed some of his on-base ability to do so, and saw a marked increase in his strikeout rate. He’s since come down from those power numbers, yet still has posted above average OPS+ numbers.

The reason some see him as a disappointment is that with Heyward, there is always a feeling as if there should be something more. That probably comes from his former “top prospect in the game” status. However, he remains an above-average bat who would provide some badly needed on-base ability. He has suffered nagging injuries that have sapped some power, but he seems to be fully recovered and playing healthy this year.

One thing that hasn’t suffered is his defense. Heyward is generally regarded as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, winning a Gold Glove in both 2012 and 2014. The defensive numbers back up these awards too. This year, he ranks second among right fielders with +8 DRS, fourth in defensive WAR (3.8), and eighth with 5 outfield assists.

Since he came into the league in 2010, Heyward has the most DRS of any right fielder in the game (105), and to further magnify how good he has been, the second best right fielder has 56 DRS. Put simply, he is a game changer in the outfield.

Perhaps the best number in making an argument for Heyward as a Phillies free agent target is this: 26. That is how old he will be in August, meaning his prime years should be still to come. Rarely does this type of free agent hit the market anymore, much less one that can have an impact like he does on the game.

Still an above average offensive player, and even if this is “all he is” offensively, coupled with his glove, it all combines to make up a very valuable player that will be available to the highest bidder. That brings us to the Phillies. Should they be that bidder?

At this point, even though I mentioned a few internal Phillies prospects, such as Altherr and Dugan, there isn’t really anyone in the minor league system that would provide the value/talent level Heyward would provide.

His primary offensive trait, the ability to get on base, is something this team really needs. Heyward still hits for average-to-above power, something the team also needs. Combine that with his elite defensive abilities, when looking at the team’s future, Heyward is everything they should be looking for: youth with the potential for more growth.

Are there some red flags? Sure. As with any player entering free agency, teams are more often paying for past performance rather than future potential. There is the chance that Heyward is what he is, and will not get better with the bat. He could also start to slip in the field as well, which would cost him a lot of his value to any club.

As I said before, he has been a frequent guest of his team’s injury report, even though two of them (facial fracture, appendix) are freak injuries. Is he considered injury prone? Not really, but any team investing a ton of money needs to make sure the player is going to be on the field if they are going to invest hundreds of millions in him.

Sure, this is nitpicking, but it’s something smarter people than myself are able to research in determining whether he’s worthy of the chase. Personally, I think that Heyward should be the number one target of the Phillies this offseason.

In the press conference announcing the changes in the Phillies’ front office, one point that clearly came across was that if financial resources were needed to improve the team, they would be provided by John Middleton. In the case of signing Heyward, they would definitely be needed.

MLB Trade Rumors recently floated out the $200 million number for the acquisition of his services, so perhaps the team needs to start there. Remember, this wouldn’t be the annual pennant winner that Heyward is currently playing for asking for his services. It would be a bottom dweller asking a player to have a little faith while reinforcements come to help him lead the team to glory. To lure him into the current Phillies situation, a massive overpay may be needed.

Heyward is the target. There is another young-ish outfielder that will be available as well, one who I will look at in the next installment of this series. But for now, Heyward would provide the best all around “bang for the buck”. My guess is that an 8 year/$180 million deal will get it done.

That price might seem aggressive/excessive/outright foolish to some, but remember, this isn’t a one-dimensional slugger that the club would be buying. It’s a well-rounded athlete who would also bring more promise of an upside than anyone else currently on the roster, save Franco. Factor in what was stated before about the Phillies being the ones to make the offer, and that is why you have a large payday for “J-Hey” Kid.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Justin Upton, and see if he is worthy of a free agent offer from the Phillies.