Free Agency

Launching the campaign to sign Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward.

Jason Heyward.

Attention: There are only 48 more days left in the 2015 baseball regular season.

That’s 48 more days until the Phillies are finished playing baseball in 2015.

You may be happy to hear this, as you’ve watched almost every major league team bludgeon the Phillies like an animal carcass in a meat-packing plant. Or, like me, you may be unhappy because, hey, baseball is baseball, and while the team may be no more than a dangling loin, you can still watch exciting players like Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, and Ken Giles, among other things.

Either way, the choice is yours with this brand of Grade-F Phillies. We knew they’d smell up the joint in 2015, and they’ve done just that. But along with the smelling, they’ve luckily transformed their farm system into an elite cattle call to prepare us for 2016 and beyond. So with that, I’m here to go beyond today, to energize you for a promising tomorrow at Citizens Bank Park.

Here’s the next step. Two words. Say it with me: Jason Heyward.

Heyward, he of the St. Louis Cardinals and their 76-42 record – and he of the 2016 free agent class – is hitting .288 with a .344 OBP (.337 wOBA) and .438 SLG, good for a .782 OPS that stands right at his career average of .781. While he has cut down on home runs in recent years (36 since 2013), his strikeout rate has fallen from a three-year average of around 21 percent (2010-12) to a three-year average of around 16 percent (2013-present). Fangraphs has him at 3.6 WAR this season, while Baseball Reference gives him 3.9 WAR.

By comparison, Heyward would have the highest OBP among Phillies regulars, and his SLG would fall just below those of Franco, the great-and-powerful Jeff Francoeur, and Ryan Howard. And Heyward wouldn’t just have – by far – the highest WAR of any position player, but his individual WAR of 3.9 nearly outpaces the entire Phillies offense (4.0 WAR).

In short, this is a solidly consistent player with above-average contact skills, average-to-above-average on-base skills, decent power production, and a superior defensive profile (most defensive metrics say he has saved at least 12 runs above average this season, with a career average trending more toward 20 per season). And in this era of interstellar pitching, a Jason Heyward goes a long way.

But why Heyward, and why 2016? Aren’t the Phillies likely to be bad again?

Well, yes, the Phillies as constructed for 2016 – with small additions – should win maybe 70 games, give or take. Adding Heyward wouldn’t tip the scale much further, maybe to about 72-73 wins, give or take. But let’s move to 2017. JP Crawford is your starting shortstop. Maybe Nick Williams is taking left field. Maybe the Phils add a premiere pitcher. Add a few small parts and maybe the Phillies are an 81-83 win team, meaning a few breaks puts them in the postseason conversation. By 2018 the Phillies are back in the thick of contention, gunning for potentially 86-88 wins.

Heyward – who by the way just turned 26 – would likely command a long-term deal in free agency, so the Phillies could be wise to lock him up for something like six years and $110 million (this figure is bound to be debated one way or another). Considering the money coming off the books over the next few years, the Phillies can easily absorb this type of salary, and considering Heyward’s consistent play, he’s likely to give all of that value back.

Heyward isn’t a one- or two-dimensional player more likely to sputter past his prime. Moreover, a six-year – or even seven-year – deal wouldn’t chain the Phillies to Heyward’s post-prime years (remember, he just turned 26). Chances are good that Heyward has at least another three to four great seasons ahead of him; say you get that, plus another good season or two, and the decision is easy. Some people may want Justin Upton, a more prolific power hitter who at 27 could also energize the Phillies for up to seven years. I can entertain that. But Upton is likely to command much more in free agency, and his limited defensive ability remains worrisome. (I should note that Heyward has a history of minor but seemingly unrelated injuries, like the hamstring injury he suffered Monday night.)

Heyward would mean an essential building block. He could fit in the batting order anywhere between the two and six holes, provide speed (18 stolen bases this year) and a little thump, and be a rock out in right field. Between Williams, Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Kelly Dugan, and the weird sliver of potential some of us hope for in Domonic Brown, the Phillies have a few options to fill left and center, and that’s before talking Carlos Tocci and Roman Quinn.

So this is my first call: Get Jason Heyward in 2016. Lock him up to a long-term deal. By year three of his contract, the Phillies could be right back in the sun with the rest of the Prime players.

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