Last season, the Chicago Cubs ended their seven-year hiatus in the playoffs and advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time in 12 years. This came after the team made significant moves last offseason by adding a proven manager in Joe Maddon, who won NL Manager of the Year in his first season with the team; a top-of-the-rotation pitcher in Jon Lester; and a promising third baseman, Kris Bryant, who won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2015. They all made a huge impact on Chicago’s transformation into a powerhouse team.
The Cubs’ status among the best in the league is only strengthened with the recent signing of free agent outfielder Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract. The Cubs swooped in and snagged arguably the top player in this year’s free agent crop for a reasonably fair price. Many expected that it would take a deal that easily surpasses $200 million to obtain his services. Instead, Heyward turned down larger offers from both the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals to join the Cubs. The 26-year-old’s decision seems to be based on the direction of his new team, their young nucleus, and veteran leadership.
Heyward is a two-time Gold Glove winner who hit a career-best .293 last season in his lone year with the Cardinals. He’s just entering the prime of his career, which could equate to a rise in his offensive production. For St. Louis, he was able to demonstrate comfort hitting in the middle of the lineup in either the fourth or fifth spot while batting .284 and .325 respectively.
The five-year veteran will likely be the team’s starting centerfielder (he’s made 31 career starts) unless Chicago moves starting right fielder Jorge Soler this offseason. Either way, the Cubs receive a massive upgrade with Heyward roaming the outfield. Although his power numbers aren’t quite up to the standards of his new lucrative contract, Heyward is a proven bat who has been consistent throughout his short career hitting double-digit home runs, driving in 60-plus RBIs, stealing 20-plus bases, and recording around 30 doubles per season. This move not only improves the team’s World Series chances next season, but for the next several years as well.
The Cubs have a promising, young core of players who are under contract for the next couple seasons. This roster includes Bryant, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, and shortstop/sometime- second baseman Addison Russell. They also possess top-level starters in Lester and this year’s Cy Young award winner, Jake Arrieta. Chicago added pitcher John Lackey on a two-year contract and utility man Ben Zobrist on a four-year deal that will fill Starlin Castro’s place on the team.
Heyward’s arrival only solidifies the Cubs as a team that can compete as a title contender for the next five years or more. However, the splashes they made this offseason also raise the expectation levels surrounding the team. Chicago is back to being one of the top teams in the league, led by a young core who could sustain their status for the foreseeable future. Fans should be excited for what lies ahead, without a doubt.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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