On Friday, outfielder Jason Heyward officially found a home. The 26-year-old agreed to an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Cubs, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported. The contract reportedly includes two opt-out provisions as well, based on plate appearance thresholds.
Heyward has a career .268 batting average, has crossed the 20-homer threshold only once in six seasons, and has never driven in more than 82 runs in a season. So why is Heyward such a hot commodity? He has a good eye at the plate, he’s fast, but most importantly, he plays stellar defense. That is, if you believe the stats.
It is well-known that advanced defensive metrics, while more illuminating than traditional stats like errors and fielding percentage, still have issues due to imprecision in measurement and sample sizes. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), found at FanGraphs, needs around three seasons’ worth of data to be reliable, according to FanGraphs. Heyward has a career UZR of 96.2, by far the highest among outfielders since he debuted in 2010. Second-best on the list is Alex Gordon at 68.3. Baseball Reference has Heyward saving 122 runs in the field since 2010, including 24 last season.
If the Cubs’ internal analytics echo what the public stats say, and if their scouts are on board as well, then it’s easy to justify the expenditure. That Heyward just turned 26 years old in August helps matters, as more than half of the deal will expire before he turns 30. Speed and defense age more rapidly than offense; it is justifiable to make such a gamble on a 26-year-old but not so much on a 29-year-old, for example.
Heyward joins an outfield that includes slugger Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, replacing Dexter Fowler in center field. However, the Cubs could swap Soler before the winter is over, which would allow Heyward to move to right field.
Heyward figures to bat leadoff for the Cubs, setting the table for a lineup that packs some serious thump. He has played in front of some weak offenses in the past, which is why he has scored more than 83 runs only once in his career. Assuming a season of normal production – a .775-.800 OPS with 15-20 home runs and 15-20 stolen bases – Heyward is a good bet to come close to matching or even surpassing his career high of 93 runs scored. That he can swipe bags makes him particularly valuable for fantasy purposes, as only 16 qualified outfielders swiped 20 or more bags during the 2015 season. Heyward’s batting average has wavered in his career, but he set a career-high of .293 with the Cardinals last year. While he shouldn’t be expected to reprise that performance, a .280 batting average with his typical 10 percent walk rate will likely yield an on-base percentage near .350, making him indispensable in leagues which use OBP.
Outfielder Michael Cuddyer surprised the baseball world on Friday night when the Mets confirmed he was retiring after 15 seasons in the majors. He’ll be turning 37 years old in March and has trundled through a plethora of injuries over the past four seasons, so it’s understandable why the veteran has chosen to hang up the spikes.
Cuddyer signed a two-year, $21 million contract with the Mets in November 2014. He’ll be forfeiting the remaining $12.5 million, assuming he and the Mets didn’t negotiate a buyout.
As a member of the Rockies, Cuddyer led the league with a .311 batting average in 2013 and followed up with a .332 average, though in only 49 games due to a fractured left shoulder socket. This past season, his first with the Mets, he hit a meager .259/.309/.391 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI in 408 plate appearances. He battled knee and wrist injuries, limiting his playing time and effectiveness.
Though suddenly an outfielder short, the Mets don’t plan to ramp up their efforts to acquire an impact outfielder (like Yoenis Cespedes). The club recently acquired Neil Walker from the Pirates and signed Asdrubal Cabrera, upgrading their infield. But as presently situated, the Mets’ outfield includes Curtis Granderson in right, Juan Lagares in center, and Michael Conforto in left.
Giles Trade Amended
The Phillies and Astros agreed to a trade involving flame-throwing closer Ken Giles on Wednesday. The Astros, at the time, were to send Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, Derek Fisher, and Thomas Eshelman to the Phillies to complete the deal. However, the Phillies didn’t like the results of Fisher’s physical, so that deal was amended on Saturday with Fisher removed. The Phillies added minor leaguer Jonathan Arauz to the deal, while the Astros added minor leaguer Harold Arauz (no relation) and former number one overall pick Mark Appel.
This trade is obviously huge for both the Astros and Giles. The Astros were two innings away from advancing to the ALCS over the Royals in Game 4 of the ALDS, but their bullpen couldn’t hold a lead. A 6-2 advantage turned into a 7-6 deficit and eventually a 9-6 loss. The Astros haven’t announced anything yet but expect him to handle closing duties over Luke Gregerson.
Giles currently has the lowest ERA in MLB history (min. 100 innings) at 1.56, ahead of Craig Kimbrel’s 1.63 and Dellin Betances’ 1.78, per ESPN Stats & Info. The 25-year-old right-hander averaged 96.5 MPH on his fastball last season and reached 100 MPH on multiple occasions. He also utilizes a slider which comes in at 86 MPH on average. Across 115 2/3 career innings, Giles has struck out 151 batters while walking only 36 – a bit of a surprise, as he battled control issues in the minors. With the move to a legitimate contender, Giles becomes an elite fantasy closer along with the likes of Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman.
Drew Silva covered Velasquez and Oberholtzer in Wednesday’s coverage of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. Let’s cover the other three players the Phillies are getting plus the second player for the Astros.
The Pirates selected Appel with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, but didn’t sign (turning down a $3.8 million signing bonus), so he went back to Stanford University for his senior season. The Astros then picked him with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft and successfully signed him with a signing bonus worth $6.35 million.
Appel’s professional baseball career has been a bit bumpier than expected. Over 253 innings at various levels of the minors, the right-hander has allowed 144 earned runs (5.12 ERA) on 280 hits and 84 walks with 221 strikeouts. Considering the level of competition, Appel’s strikeout rate is lower than expected and he has battled command issues as well. The Phillies are betting on the 24-year-old figuring things out and living up to his hype as a number one overall pick. Appel could make his major league debut for the Phillies during the 2016 season if he is able to turn things around at Triple-A Lehigh Valley first.
Eshelman, 21, has a reputation as a control freak dating back to his college days with Cal State Fullerton. Across 376 1/3 innings with CSF, the right-hander struck out 321 while walking only 18. He was selected by the Astros in the second round of the 2015 draft. Eshelman tossed 10 1/3 innings – four in rookie ball, and 6 1/3 with Single-A Quad Cities – and allowed five runs in 12 hits and five walks with eight strikeouts. Eshelman doesn’t throw hard but has great command and deception, which could make him a serviceable back-end starter once he reaches the big leagues.
H. Arauz, 20, made his debut in A-ball last season with low-A Tri-City in the New York Penn League. In 51 2/3 innings, he yielded 33 runs on 72 hits and 18 walks with 52 strikeouts. As the numbers indicate, he has a lot of work to be done before he can factor into the Phillies’ future plans.
J. Arauz, 17, signed with the Phillies for $600,000 out of Panama in 2014. In his first season of professional baseball in the Gulf Coast League, Arauz hit .254/.309/.370 which, considering his age, is phenomenal. He has some projectable tools, including an ability to hit for contact which could yield power as he gets older and bigger, so he is a bit of a lottery ticket for the Astros.
Quick Hits: The Diamondbacks signed infielder Joaquin Arias to a minor league contract on Sunday … Pirates GM Neal Huntington says third baseman Jung Ho Kang (knee) is more likely to return in April than in May … Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg told the media on Saturday that the procedure he underwent in November removed a fibrolipoma from his back … Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran said that depending on his health and performance, he may retire after the 2016 season or play one more season … The Nationals have pulled out of their pursuit of Reds closer Aroldis Chapman due to his involvement in a domestic violence incident … Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette confirmed the club has pulled its offer to free agent 1B/OF Chris Davis … The Phillies acquired starter Charlie Morton from the Pirates for minor league pitcher David Whitehead on Saturday … The Mariners signed reliever Steve Cishek to a two-year, $10 million contract on Saturday … The Indians signed outfielder Robbie Grossman to a minor league contract on Friday … The Phillies signed pitcher Ernesto Frieri to a minor league contract on Thursday ... The Astros signed reliever Tony Sipp to a three-year, $18 million contract on Thursday.