On December 15, 2015 the Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year $184 million contract. The tall right fielder was one of the most highly sought-after players on the free agent market that year. Heyward had a lot of appeal due to his elite defense and offensive ability that showed flashes of emerging. Teams believed in his power potential despite his not having fully met the promise that saw him hit 27 homers in 2012.
The Cubs, eager to move from rebuilding mode to competitive mode made the most aggressive offer to J-Hey. To begin with they gave him a full no-trade clause, something Theo Epstein has been reluctant to offer in contracts. The deal also included a player opt out after just three years. If Jason had a great run those three seasons he could opt out of the deal for a big payday in his age 29 season. If he struggled, Chicago would likely be saddled with the entire eight years of the deal.
As everyone knows by now, the latter scenario has come to pass. The Gold Glove level defense has been just as advertised, the J-Hey Kid won the award in 2016 and is likely to win it 2017. Offensively the results have not been great, a weak .715 OPS in 2017 was a drastic improvement over a ghastly .631 OPS in 2016. Constant mechanical changes have done little to improve his offensive performance.
Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ both had very impressive years in their first full MLB seasons in 2017. Almora played outstanding defense and posted a .782 OPS, .898 OPS against lefties, earning more playing time as the year went on. Happ made his debut in May and hit 24 homers with an .842 OPS and showed impressive speed and athleticism. Add in Kyle Schwarber's second-half surge and the Cubs outfield looks very crowded.
Some fans and writers have begun speculating that maybe the Cubs can shed Heyward's contract in some sort of bad asset swap for another team's burdensome contract or contracts. The latest was Phil Rogers of MLB.com who reported this via Twitter:
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) November 7, 2017
This is just one of many other rumors that have flown around the internet of late. The bigger question is, what are the chances Chicago could actually get out from under Heyward's contract? The answer is that it's possible, but not very likely to say the least.
To begin with Jason has the full no-trade clause as part of his deal. The Cubs attempted to trade Alfonso Soriano, who had the same no-trade clause, to the Giants in 2013. Sori blocked the trade preferring to stay with Chicago, and eventually he was traded to Yankees the next season. Heyward seems to like playing for the Cubs, so he would have to like the situation of the team he is shipped to. No dumping him in a baseball Siberia like Tampa or Miami to run out his contract.
For arguments sake, let's say that J-Hey was willing to waive his NTC and be traded. Then the Cubs have to actually find a team with similar bad deals to swap back. To lose a albatross deal you have to accept an albatross deal. It won't be a pretty deal or deals that come back, it will be something similar to Samardzija/Melancon. Honestly, that seems like too good of a return for Heyward so I doubt it happens (also my colleague Dan Travis informs me Melancon has a NTC and Samardzija has a limited NTC, so it's even more complicated).
The front office could try the deep fry approach to make the deal more appealing. Follow me here, when you have an unappealing food you can batter it and fry it to make it more tasty. So Chicago could package their right fielder with a more appealing player say Addison Russell or Javy Baez (not a thought I enjoy) to make eating the contract more palatable.
The odds seem to lean heavily against any trade involving J-Hey happening. The Cubs will likely make an effort to move the deal, the amount of smoke around a trade indicates some effort is being made. Just seems like too much has to align for it to happen: a team willing to eat Heyward's deal, a return on the deal that isn't worse, and finally Jason being willing to wave his no-trade. Like it or not, the Cubs are going to be in the Jason Heyward business for the next six years.