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Cubs sign Jason Heyward, become NL Central favorites

Curses were made to be broken.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Let's pretend that you're the GM of a very good baseball team. Not just a good team, but a great team. A team flush with wonderful hitting, youth, and a dash of good pitching. You've already signed someone to shore up that pitching staff. You've traded one of those youngsters for another pitcher. You've even replaced that youngster with a better option that can play multiple positions. What do you do with said team?

You sign the best damn player available, of course. That's just what the Cubs have done. They've signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million dollar contract and placed him atop a lineup that just won't quit. He's the nine-figure cherry atop the sundae of their offseason. Heyward is an all-world defender in right field, a decidedly above-average hitter, and just 26 years old. The Cubs will have him for his prime years and there's absolutely nothing that the rest of the NL Central can do about it.

Let's take a step back and look at the big picture. By all accounts, the Cubs stole Heyward out of the jaws of the Nationals, the Angels, and most importantly, the Cardinals. By all accounts he left money on the table to take the Chicago deal. And by all accounts, I believe we've mentioned that Heyward will be in his prime and is already really good at playing baseball. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have pilfered their new player from their bitter rival in the Central. They've taken Heyward's positive production, and possible even better future production, out of St. Louis and enshrined it in Wrigley Field, like Kyle Shwarber's home run ball atop the scoreboard. They've also signed 2015 Cardinal John Lackey, which means...

Now, the Cardinals will replace that value as best they can. A possible signing of Alex Gordon and a full season of Adam Wainwright will go a long way in plugging those holes. However, Gordon is not Heyward. Gordon doesn't come with instructions to "just add water and time and allow your jaw to drop at how good your outfielder has become!".

Consider the following, too. One of the main gripes on Heyward is that he's not the prototypical nine-figure player. He's not vintage Robinson Cano or Albert Pujols. Heyward hasn't exceeded 20 homers in a season since 2012, his 27-dinger outburst. He hit just 13 in St. Louis this year.

ESPN's park factors, though, say that St. Louis was the eighth-most hostile park to home runs in 2015. Wrigley Field was the third friendliest. That means that Cubs fans can expect to see this more often, but without that sinking feeling of terror attached.

Even without the home runs, Heyward has maintained a career .353 OBP, which will play quite nicely at the top of the Chicago lineup. He'll get on base a lot, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant will drive him in a lot. With the addition of Ben Zobrist's equally OBP-conducive skillset to the lineup, the Cubs could quite easily mount a Blue Jays-esque offensive attack on baseball.

The move also affords the Cubs quite a lot of flexibility. They could simply stick Heyward in center field to replace the departed Dexter Fowler. Or, they could trade Jorge Soler as part of a deal for yet another impact starting pitcher, let Heyward play right field as he's been doing for a while, and hand the keys to center field to Javier Baez. He has played some outfield in the minor leagues and has been playing center in the winter leagues. A player with his athleticism and astronomical baseball IQ should handle the task with ease. In the event that Soler stays, Baez could go in the deal for a pitcher, or be deployed as a super-sub at various positions off the bench. Whatever happens, Joe Maddon will have many toys to play with come April.

The deal is a beautiful one for Heyward too. Ken Rosenthal reports that the contract contains opt-out clauses after both the third and fourth years. Heyward could theoretically re-enter the free agent bonanza at the still-prime age of 29 and reap in further cash. What his agent did well, however, was to give him the option to wait a year. That is because following the 2018 season, Bryce Harper will be a free agent. His contract will likely have Earth-shattering ramifications for going rate of free agent talent. Once Harper gets his humongous deal and Scott Boras rides off into the sunset, Heyward can step in the following winter and collect his winnings. Should he get hurt and not be able to get more money on the open market (or simply decline early), he can stick around for the next four years and get paid. It's a phenomenal situation for him to be in.

All in all, this is a windfall for the Cubs. Heyward can very easily be a titanic player for Chicago for at least the next three or four years, if not the next eight. His prime will soon be upon him, and there's a very real scenario in which Heyward performs defensive wizardry while blasting 20 or more home runs. That's superstar level production. That's another superstar on a team that already has more than its fair share of superstars, and possibly even more in the making. If you listen closely, you can hear billy goats quaking in their hooves. The Wrigleyville Revolution is upon us. These are exciting times to be a baseball fan.

Unless you're a Cardinals fan, of course.


Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also covers the Yankees at BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.