In one of the more off-the-wall trade rumors we’ve heard in a long while, the Giants reportedly have interest in acquiring Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, per Phil Rogers of MLB.com. Rogers reports that Giants starter Jeff Samardzija and closer Mark Melancon could be two possibilities to head to Chicago in a potential deal.
Heyward, 28, has been one of the most frustrating players in the majors since signing an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs in December of 2015. Heyward’s 68 OPS+ ranked 145th among 147 qualifying major-league batters in 2016. He saw less frequent action in 2017 due to two hand injuries that necessitated DL stints and manager Joe Maddon choosing to sit him more against left-handed starters, but he was still rather unproductive at the plate, posting a subpar 85 OPS+ for the season.
San Francisco’s interest in Heyward is curious, seeing as they finished a distant last in the majors in home runs (128) and slugging percentage (.380) in 2017. Heyward has hit just 18 homers over the past two seasons while playing his home games in one of baseball’s most notorious hitters’ parks, so he wouldn’t seem to be much of a solution to the Giants’ power-hitting woes. In fact, Heyward would likely provide less power than Giants in-house options such as Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson, and Austin Slater.
On the plus side, Heyward is a very good defensive outfielder and just won his fourth straight Gold Glove (the fifth of his career). In the short term, Heyward would significantly improve San Francisco’s outfield defense, which was one of the most worrisome aspects of last year’s Giants club. With that said, he’s not well-equipped to play center field, which is San Francisco’s most significant position of need defensively, and seeing as he’s 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, his defensive skills are likely to deteriorate over the length of the deal.
While the Giants resurrected quite a few careers earlier this decade and could theoretically do the same with Heyward, it’d seem as if the Cubs would be getting the better end of this potential deal. While Samardzija will probably always give up more home runs than he should—and that may be a bigger concern at Wrigley Field than it is at AT&T Park—he’s got great command, as he struck out 205 hitters and walked just 32 over an NL-best 207.2 innings in 2017. Melancon is coming off a rough, injury-ravaged season, but there’s a decent amount of optimism that he’ll be able to regain his form as one of baseball’s best closers now that he’s undergone forearm surgery.
It would be interesting to see what kind of salary retention could be involved in a potential Heyward deal. Even if the Giants were to deal both pitchers for Heyward, they’d be adding payroll if they took on his entire contract, as Heyward is still owed $146.6 million, while the Giants owe Melancon and Samardzija a combined $106.4 million. Both Melancon and Samardzija come off the books after 2020, so their financial impact wouldn’t be as long-lasting as Heyward’s.
Of course, a potential deal would be complicated by the fact that Heyward and Melancon have full no-trade clauses. Samardzija can block trades to 21 teams each year, though Andrew Baggarly of The Mercury News reported in July that the Cubs were one of the eight teams on his can-trade list for 2017, which makes sense considering he grew up 45 minutes outside of Chicago and began his professional career with the Cubs.