By Randy Richardson
It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.
It’s also no secret that, at least in recent memory, it has been a pretty one-sided rivalry.
Not since 2008 have the Cubs topped the Cards in the standings.
But since October, the tables have been turned. After beating the Cards in the postseason, the Cubs have out-played their archrival in the offseason. And they’ve been hitting their nemesis where it hurts most. Right in the gut. With a solid one-two punch.
First, Chicago lured away from St. Louis one of its ace pitchers, signing John Lackey to a 2-year, $36 million deal.
Then Friday afternoon news broke that the Cubs had won sweepstakes for outfielder Jason Heyward, arguably the Cards’ MVP last season, agreeing to a deal with the three-time Gold Glove Award winner reportedly worth $184 million over eight years.
Only time will tell how these moves will play out in the end, and neither team is likely done with the offseason deal-making, but it was still a staggering blow to the Cardinals, whom many had seen as the frontrunners in the bidding war for the prized free agent.
Last season, Heyward posted a 6.5 WAR, the highest of any Cardinal position player by a considerable margin. At only 26 years of age, Heyward is seen as an all-around baseball player: one of the best in baseball in defensive runs saved and a solid hitter with better-than-average speed.
To the Cubs, Heyward brings much-needed defense and speed. In 2015, his first with the Cardinals, he batted .293 with a .359 OBP, 13 homers and 60 RBI. He also stole 23 bases. Over his six-year career, the former first-round draft pick of the Braves has a .268 BA, .353 OBP, 97 HR, 352 RBI and 86 SB. In three of his six seasons, he’s posted a WAR above 6.
SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee writes that Heyward, nicknamed the “J-Hey Kid,” looks to be a perfect fit for the Cubs. In filling the void left by the loss of centerfielder Dexter Fowler to free agency, Brisbee notes that over the last four seasons Heyward put up offensive numbers slightly better than Fowler while providing defense that is “worth an extra four wins every year.”
Everyone knows that the Cards aren’t going to go down easily, and they’ve historically shown a remarkable resilience to losing players to injuries and free agency. But look at 2015. The Cubs finished three games in back of the Cards in the division. Take those four extra wins and the order gets flipped.
When you add Heyward to the other additions the Cubs made over the last eight days, including the versatile three-time All-Star Ben Zobrist, signed to a four-year, $56 million deal on Tuesday, and pitchers Lackey and Adam Warren, the latter acquired in a trade with the Yankees for Starlin Castro, and the Cubs are looking stronger than the team that surprised many by going all the way to the NLCS in 2015.
For Cubs fans, who’ve been waiting for next year since 1908, optimism is at a fever pitch. Spring can’t come soon enough.
Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation.