Chicago Cubs: Which signing will they regret?
In December, the Cubs signed outfielder Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract. The last time the Cubs handed out an eight-year contract it was to Alfonso Soriano. The year was 2006 and the Cubs inked Soriano for $136 million.
How did that work out?
Well, initially it worked out wonderfully. Soriano hit 62 home runs, had an OPS close to .900 and made the All-Star game in his first two seasons as a Cub. Not coincidentally, the Cubs made the playoffs in those two seasons, as well.
Playing in his age 33 season in 2009, Soriano’s production began to slip. He missed significant playing time and never quite got on track offensively. He finished the season with just 20 home runs while hitting .241 and slashing his way to a .726 OPS.
Soriano’s overall production increased over his remaining three and a half seasons with the Cubs, though his batting average was never higher than .262 and his defense was always a bit suspect.
Overall, Soriano was never not a good player for the Cubs. The problem was that the Cubs were paying him to be a great player–at least as great as he had been playing previously for the Yankees, Rangers and Nationals.
The Cubs are paying Heyward to be great player (no pressure). They handed over an eight-year contract averaging over $20 million per year for Heyward to play at an elite level.
The good news is Heyward’s age 33 season–the season where Soriano’s production began to drop off–will be Heyward’s final year in the contract. It’s unlikely his age will cause a decline in production.
But what level of production can we expect? Soriano hit 41 home runs the season before he signed his deal with the Cubs. Heyward’s highest single season was 27 back in 2012 while playing for the Braves. It’s clear the Cubs are not paying Heyward for past production, but rather are playing him based on potential.
Heyward is just entering his age 26 season–which coincidentally is the season when Soriano found his power stroke and hit 39 home runs (in 2002 while playing for the Yankees). If we see similar numbers from Heyward from his age 26 to 33 seasons as we did from Soriano, the Cubs (and all of us fans) should be well-pleased with the investment.
Perhaps, though, the greatest lesson we learn from the Soriano contract is that eight years is a long time. It is tough and rare for a player to play at an elite level for eight years. Those who do generally end up in the Hall of Fame–and we’ve yet to see Heyward post up HoF numbers.
So here’s my bold prediction: due to the length of contract, the Heyward deal will be the one the Cubs live to regret.
This is purely speculative and argumentative, so please voice your opinions in the comments!