Over the weekend, the Dodgers and the Cardinals both revealed that, respectively, they would not be pursuing contract extensions with Zack Greinke and Jason Heyward during the regular season. On its surface, that seems surprising. Greinke, after all, leads all of baseball in ERA, ERA+ and WAR, and he can opt out of his contract at the end of the season (which he, barring injury, certainly will). Heyward has again provided his trademark combination of above-average offense and excellent defense to help drive St. Louis to the best record in the Majors in his last season under arbitration.
In Greinke's case, at least, it makes sense the more you think about it. Greinke's value has literally never been higher than it is right now. His performance has been historic. Indeed, his 216 ERA+ would be one of the top dozen or so performances of the last 100 years. He'll still only be 32 years old, with almost no history of injury since he was a 22 year old. There's no chance in hell of getting him for less than full price. All the Dodgers might gain by negotiating with him now is an exclusive negotiating period.
But what good does that do them, really? As they've proved again and again and again, the Dodgers have all of the money, and they are willing to spend it. There's no sense in taking on the risk that Greinke gets hit by a falling piece of SkyLab when you know that you can outbid anyone for his services when the time comes. The Dodgers are confident that if Greinke wants to be in Los Angeles again next year, they will be able to make it happen. And if he doesn't? Well, then the money and the negotiating window won't matter anyway.
On the other hand, I'm not sure what the Cardinals are doing here. Generally undervalued by the public because he never reached the offensive heights predicted when he was destroying windshields during batting practice in his rookie season, Heyward has proven to be an incredible asset defensively over the years. You would think a club like the Cardinals, who are metric-heavy and who value that kind of defensive contribution, would want to continue their relationship with Heyward. But with Randall Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty breaking through this year, and Matt Adams set to return from the disabled list before the end of the season, the Cardinals are awash in corner outfielders and have nowhere to put them all. [Note: I can't believe I have to point this out, but apparently I do. Yes, Matt Adams is a first baseman, but like teams have done from time immemorial, the Cardinals could conceivably play a corner outfielder out of position at first base if he were not there.]
That said, Matt Holliday and Adams have been injured for much of 2015, and neither Grichuk or Piscotty profiles as a star. Heyward, meanwhile, has still been worth between three and four wins above replacement in what has been a fairly typical year for him. That kind of production is difficult to replace. Plus, with a new television deal that will pay them more than double what they're currently earning starting in 2018, at least $1 billion over 15 years starting in 2018, the Cardinals are still going to have plenty of cash on hand if they extend Heyward. And while all that money on the horizon is exciting, the Cardinals' pockets still won't be as deep as other franchises. They'll have money, in other words; they just won't have Dodgers money. The Cardinals will have to compete for a player who will be in demand. Better, then to not compete, and to get a deal done before a bidding war can break out.
Indeed, the only reason not to extend Heyward now would be that they aren't convinced they want Heyward. To which I guess I would say, "Are you crazy? Who doesn't want Jason Heyward?" For that matter, who doesn't want Zack Greinke? But unlike the Dodgers, the Cardinals can't write a blank check to keep their star.