Jason Heyward opens up even more possibilities as the Cubs try to win the World Series in 2016 and still keep their window to contend open for years to come at Wrigley Field.
But while juggling so many balls in the air, the Cubs won’t be immediately flipping Jorge Soler or Javier Baez, sources said in the aftermath of Friday’s eight-year, $184 million commitment to Heyward.
There’s not another “multiple bank shot” lined up for team president Theo Epstein, the way the Cubs could only sign Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million contract once the New York Yankees agreed to take on Starlin Castro’s money ($38 million guaranteed) and give up a valuable pitcher (Adam Warren).
The prices for pitching keep soaring, and that’s one reason why the Cubs plan to hold onto their young hitters for now, beyond Baez and Soler’s untapped potential.
The demands from the Cleveland Indians (Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco) and San Diego Padres (Tyson Ross) aren’t going to suddenly drop when the Arizona Diamondbacks just paid a fortune in the Shelby Miller deal, sending the Atlanta Braves a No. 1 overall pick (Dansby Swanson), a highly regarded pitching prospect (Aaron Blair) and a big-league outfielder (Ender Inciarte).
The Cubs have been talking directly to those teams about offense-for-pitching trades since at least last summer. The cost of acquiring the young starter the Cubs would want in any Soler deal is seen as unreasonable with the Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox driving up that market, too, by laying out $423 million for Zack Greinke and David Price.
In terms of depth, the Cubs have already diversified their pitching staff with swingmen like Warren, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard and Travis Wood.
Baez is now the insurance policy if shortstop Addison Russell has another hamstring injury and an antidote to day games at Wrigley Field, allowing Zobrist to recover during his age-35 season and third baseman Kris Bryant to get a mental break.
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Zobrist is supposed to be more of an everyday second baseman now, but in a best-case scenario for 2016 the Cubs see Baez in the super-utility role once perfected with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays teams.
Maybe the winter-ball experiment works in Puerto Rico and Baez could occasionally play center and move Heyward over to the right-field spot where he won three Gold Gloves.
“I think Javy has a chance to be a lot like Zobrist was in Tampa,” general manager Jed Hoyer said this week during the winter meetings. “He can play everywhere and play everywhere really well. If someone gets hurt, he can slot into that position and play there for a long time.
“But if we’re healthy, the ability to move around like that is really valuable. Joe being able to move Zobrist and Baez around gives him so much flexibility. It gives the roster so much flexibility. That’s kind of how we’re envisioning things right now.”
The Cubs could always do more with the pitching staff and add specific role players – and no one is untouchable – but Maddon now has the defensive versatility he craves and a monster lineup for October.