Red Sox: What Jason Heyward’s deal with Chicago Cubs means to Boston


The lucrative 8-year deal that the Chicago Cubs inked Jason Heyward to highlights the value that the Boston Red Sox have placed on their own defensive-minded outfielders.

The Boston Red Sox are set to deploy what could be the best defensive outfield in baseball in 2016. Having an elite defender patrolling the outfield is tremendously valuable, let alone three of them.

How valuable? The Chicago Cubs answered that by signing Jason Heyward to an 8-year, $184 million deal. While he is coming off one of his best years at the plate, $23 million per year isn’t what you expect to pay for a career .264 hitter that hasn’t topped 14 home runs, 60 RBI or reached an .800 OPS in any of the last three seasons. The 26-year old may have some untapped potential left in his bat, but make no mistake, the Cubs value him primarily for his glove.

Heyward’s glove happens to be among the best in the business, ranking fourth in the majors with 24 defensive runs saved last season. He does provide decent value at the plate, but it’s his defense that carries his value into elite territory by pushing him into the top-10 with a 6.5 WAR. Over the last two seasons Heyward has complied the 5th highest wins above replacement in the majors with 12.7 WAR.

Baseball executives are finally realizing the value of elite defensive players, so an outfielder that proves to be an above-average hitter while playing the type of defense that Heyward does is going to get paid in the same territory as the hulking sluggers that smash 40+ homers.

So what does this mean to the Red Sox? Simply put, it means Boston has tremendous value in their outfield.

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If you want value, look no further than Mookie Betts. In his first full season in the big leagues, Betts produced a 6.0 WAR that tied him for 6th in the American League while making right around the league minimum. He established himself as a great lead-off hitter and has become one of the better bats in a deep Red Sox lineup, but the converted infielder has proven to be good with the glove as well. He saved 10 runs this year to rank inside the top-10 among AL outfielders and will only improve as he gains more experience. Keep in mind that prior to this season Betts only had a total of 37 games of experience playing the outfield at the major league level after spending nearly his entire minor league career as an infielder.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. is not only one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, there are those that wonder if he is among the best in franchise history. Last season he saved 8 runs with his defense in only 73 games, while posting a spectacular .994 field percentage. Extrapolate that over a full season and he would enter the elite territory that Heyward resides in, while scouts that salivate over Bradley’s defensive play would argue that his glove is even more valuable than these advanced statistics suggest.

Last August we finally saw a glimpse of what Bradley is capable of at the plate, providing hope that his bat will develop enough for him to finally become a staple in the everyday lineup. If he can improve slightly on last year’s final slash line of .249/.335/.498 while blasting double-digit homers, there’s no reason why he can’t produce similar value to Heyward at a fraction of the cost.

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As great as we know Bradley is in the outfield, Rusney Castillo may have been even better last season. The 28-year old Cuban native was 7th among major league outfielders with 15 defensive runs saved despite starting only 67 games. His bat hasn’t lived up to expectations yet, but another year of experience will help. Remember, Castillo spent about two years away from baseball while defecting from Cuba and spent minimal time in minor league system after signing with Boston. He’ll make significantly more money than his outfield teammates, but a small jump in his offensive production coupled with his already outstanding defensive play should result in Castillo easily living up to his contract.

When you consider the contract Heyward received for being an elite defensive outfielder with an above-average bat, you can see why the Red Sox have put a premium on their own outfielders. Betts is essentially untouchable, while Bradley’s defense alone has made him too valuable to give away unless he was the centerpiece of a significant return. Castillo’s value is currently too low to sell, but the Red Sox expect much more from him and believe he will still turn out to be the player they paid for.

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Heyward will be paid $23 million per year and be worth every penny for as long as he remains an elite defensive player, while the trio of Red Sox outfielders will collectively make about half of that. As far as a return on their investment, the Red Sox may have baseball’s most valuable set of outfielders.