Jason Heyward (22) is one of baseball's most exciting players. He becomes a free agent in two years and likely beyond the reach of the Braves payroll. Should they trade him now or keep him and be happy with a draft pick? Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Should The Braves Trade Jason Heyward

(Updated to correct my sourced information on trade talks)

With two years until Jason Heyward reaches free agency; to trade or not to trade – is that the question?

Buster Olney recently wrote that the Braves should trade Craig Kimbrel –who is three years from free agency – now because he would soon be too expensive for the Braves and few other teams could afford him next year.  As valuable as Kimbrel is to the Braves, the return for him as a trade chip is not that of a starter or an everyday player. Jason Heyward on the other hand, is a very different story.

Why Trade Now?

Unlike Kimbrel, Heyward is an everyday player and a five tool everyday player at that. In his freshman year of 2010 he put up a slash of  .277/.393/.456/.849 and a 6.4 rWAR for the season. His sophomore season was riddled with injury but he was healthy again in 2012 and once again his slash – .269/.335/.479/.814 – and 5.8 rWAR put him amongst the league leaders. Going into 2013 Keith Law called him one of the five best players under 25 and there was much written about extending him. yet the Braves didn’t couldn’t extend him and contrary to rumors I can’t find any evidence they tried. according to Mark Bowman they “(the Braves) showed some interest in discussing this possibility, the talks seemed to die quickly. . . Heyward and Freeman were not willing to partake in at this time.” That was a huge mistake. In April MLBTR estimated his extension to be worth six years at $75m; he’s much more expensive than that now. A look outfielders who recently received extensions or were free agent signings shows why.

This list makes it clear that a 24 year old Jason Heyward extension would cost at least five years at $100M; anything short of $90M would be seen as an insult.  Hands up all who see a $100M extension for Heyward this off season. If they aren’t going to extend him what are they going to do?

Other Options

One option we can take off the table is the Teixeira option. In 2008 new GM Frank Wren traded Mark Teixeira mid year of his final contract year thereby forfeiting a compensation draft pick for for Casey Kotchman. With all due respect to Kotchman, that was an awful decision. The Angels drafted 19th and 20th using the compensation pick to draft an outfielder out of Millville Senior High School; Mike Trout. The Braves picked seventh and chose Mike Minor that year. They would have then been able to use the compensation pick immediately to choose from Trout, Mike Leake, Shelby Miller, Jacob Turner, Drew Storen, Tyler Skaggs and Aaron Crow. Thankfully the new CBA ended draft pick compensation for mid-year pickups so that kind of thing won’t happen.

A second option is to wait and trade him next off season. The return for Heyward with one year of control as opposed to two would be significantly lower. The free agent outfielder list for 2015 is pretty thin so Braves might get a top prospect and perhaps one other lower level prospect along with a couple of PTBNL if a team really wanted him.

The last option available is the one the Braves appear to be choosing; do nothing. It’s a tried and true way of watching your player head for the greener pastures of free agency and consoling yourself with a draft pick in 2016. That isn’t always a bad thing and is the right answer if the offer isn’t good enough. Who thinks teams wouldn’t like to have Jason at $5M this year and maybe $10M next? The offers would be good; very good. The Braves could ask for and likely receive a huge package in return something akin to that the Rays were originally asking for David Price is not out of the question. So, what would it take?

The Price Is Not Right

First let me say unequivocally, David Price is not the answer in this trade. He has the same pay and retainability issues as Jason and the Rays are trying to duck that. Like Price however, Heyward would be expensive.  Until the Rangers signed Choo they were one of the teams with the depth to bid, the Red Sox have it as well as the Mariners and the White Sox could put together a suitable package. Other teams have the depth – like the Cardinals – but are unlikely to jump in because of 2016 free agency but who knows . I’ll just look at a couple of these with the caveat that I understand there are reasons why they might not make the trade

The Red Sox discussion would have to start with Allen Webster and Jackie Bradley and include someone like Trey Ball, Garin Cecchini or Mookie Betts. To justify such a haul they would likely want Aaron Northcraft or J.R. Graham and possibly Tyler Pastornicky in return and that’s not a problem for me.

Any deal with the White Sox starts with Chris Sale; that of course might also end it but lets assume it doesn’t. The Sox farm system is thin but they have money to pay Jason as Adam Dunn’s $15M comes off their payroll next year and they have some major league level players rumored ready to move who might fit.  So along with Sale names like Alejandro De Aza, Gordon Beckham could be added and something like Sale, De Aza, Beckham for Jason might work. Sale is the only long term loss to the White Sox in such a deal,  De Aza would be excess to their needs and they have Tim Anderson and Micah Johnson that could replace Beckham or Alexei Ramirez come to that. If they wanted more in return like a pitching prospect they would in turn have to slip more into the deal.

There are other possibilities but you get the idea, a Heyward trade is like signing three near the top draft picks potentially including an impact arm in the process.

That’s A Wrap

Failure to extend or trade Heyward should mean the Braves intend to go for it this year and next. While there is still time to do something, the something that we need is in short supply and expensive. It requires recognition that the window for success is closing and it’s a win now or wait another five, six or ten years. The GM says the team is as strong as last year – it’s not. While the Cardinals, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Nationals and every other team in the east actually got better, we signed Mat Gamel, Mark Hamilton and Gavin Floyd –who optimistically won’t be able to pitch until May–and traded for Ryan Doumit. Neither Gamel nor Hamilton is likely to have an impact, Doumit is a bench bat and emergency anything else. None of that indicates a bold move to win now.

The time remaining for our young roster to play together at their peak is coming to a close. Along with Heyward, Justin Upton (a lot of this is true for JUP as well but the return for him is likely less), Dan Uggla (don’t cheer too loudly you’ll wake the neighbors) and Kris Medlen are free agents in 2016 with Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson following them in 2017.  Our projected 2016 outfield is B.J., Jordan Schafer or Todd Cunningham and Joey Terdoslavich; how does that sound to you?  So the time to go for it is now and by go for it I mean David Price.

The Rays landing spots for Price are diminishing daily. The Rangers signing Choo took their pocket change, they wouldn’t trade him to the Yankees or Red Sox unless blown away. The Yankees have nothing to give them and the Red Sox are unlikely to give up enough to satisfy the Rays. The Mariners repeatedly say Taijuan Walker is out of the question and the Diamondbacks aren’t giving up Archie Bradley. The Dodgers might have enough to do it with Joc Pederson and Zach Lee and maybe they want insurance against losing Clayton Kershaw. While it wasn’t enough in the early days of the post season when everyone was still in on Price the Braves could likely do it now with Alex Wood. Christian Bethancourt and Tyler Pastornicky; as the number of buyers drops so does the price for Price.

I’ve heard all of the reasons not to before; we don’t want to give up our future for a short term rental; Bethancourt is the next Molina etc. But look, the future is the next two years with Jason, JUP, Freddie, CJ, Meds, and Kimbrel. We have nothing on the way that looks like can’t miss replacements for JUP and Jason or Freddie. So what future are we waiting for?

I’d go all out to extend Heyward now and 5 @ 20 isn’t an unreasonable offer for either side. He’ll be 29 and ready for an other huge payday at the end of that time and the Braves need to keep one of their most popular players. If he cannot be extended and management isn’t willing to go for it, trading him to restock and reload makes the most sense and getting the right pieces might give you a chance to win now as well.  Trading Jason wouldn’t be popular but getting a Chris Sale type arm back along with a couple of useful pieces eases that pain. It could even take us deeper into post season play and that would certainly make the fans forgive even if they can’t forget.

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