Spend Hal's Money: Will Yankees make a big splash with Jason Heyward?
It's that time of the year again, when we get to indulge in everyone's favorite pastime: spending AGM (another guy's money). In our case, that guy is Hal Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the New York Yankees, who did a pretty good job of spending his own money in 2015; the Yankees' Opening Day payroll was north of $217 million, second-highest in the game. But Hal can always do better -- with our help, of course -- and over the next couple of weeks, Andrew Marchand and I will examine some of the goodies the Baby Boss can buy on the free-agent market this winter.
Today we look at the player considered by most to be the prize free agent in this year's crop:
Position: Right fielder
2015 numbers: $7.8 million salary, .293-13-60, .797 OPS, 6.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference)
Opening Day age: 26
PROS: Not the most spectacular, offensive-numbers wise, but almost certainly the best all-around player in this year's group, Heyward is ranked No. 1 among free agents by ESPN's panel of baseball experts, among others. A highlight-reel defender, above-average hitter and a basepath threat -- 43 stolen bases in 50 attempts over the past two seasons -- Heyward is the type of free agent the Yankees would have been all-in on in what some consider the Good Old Days (i.e., When The Boss was Alive). He sports a low strikeout percentage for an outfielder, decent walk percentage, and his OBP (.359) was higher than any of the Yankees' three starting outfielders in 2015. Like all left-handed hitters, his subpar power numbers will benefit from the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium. And best of all, he won't hit his 27th birthday until next August.
CONS: He probably will command Robinson Cano/A-Rod-type numbers, and will probably demand an opt-out. The Yankees have to decide if a player who has averaged 16 home runs a year -- his high was 27 in 2012 -- is worth upward of $200 million. And, like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes, the other elite outfielders on the market, it means moving a current outfielder -- in this case, either Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury -- to free up money and a spot on the field for him. Heyward is probably too big to be a center fielder and his prodigious defensive abilities could be nullified by Yankee Stadium's mini right field, but he has never played left.
THE VERDICT: Heyward is a tough one to pass up, and if this were 10 years ago, there would be no question he would be a Yankee in 2016. But this is a different era and different ownership, even if the name remains the same. It seems Hal's Yankees are more likely to aim slightly lower, or even sit out the outfield sweepstakes and wait a few years for the rest of their big contracts to expire -- and for someone like Mike Trout to hit the market. A reluctant pass.