Adding insult to injury, the former Cardinal didn't just sign with any old team, but headed straight up I-55 to join one of St. Louis' primary rivals, the Chicago Cubs. While the Cubs finished third in the National League Central in 2015 behind the Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, their divisional bronze medal was one of the more unusual ones in MLB history, considering that Chicago won 97 games. As the 2016 season -- and even more wins -- beckon, Cubs fans are no doubt drooling at the prospect of getting a leg up on their rivals.
The question that most intrigued me heading into this offseason was whether front offices had progressed to the point where they would be willing to pay big for defense in the corner outfield. Yes, teams have paid top dollar for Gold Glovers at premium positions in the past, but we had yet to see a left fielder, right fielder or first baseman whose glove had as much to do with his stardom as his bat get top dollar. That question was answered with an emphatic yes when the Cubs gave Heyward an eight-year, $184 million contract. And Chicago wasn't the only bidder for his services.
With Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler in the corners and no obvious center field option -- prospect Albert Almora probably won't be ready in 2016 -- the Cubs will give Heyward a serious look in center. Unlike the Padres' experiment with Wil Myers last season -- in which San Diego attempted to shift the former right fielder to center, where he logged a minus-14 defensive runs saved -- Heyward is a good bet to adjust well to his new position, even if it's not at a Gold Glove level.
Because of the fact that he's likely to play center field adequately and is entering his age-26 season, far younger than most star free agents, ZiPS projects Heyward's worth in Chicago at $237 million over eight years -- which makes Heyward's actual deal eminently reasonable.
Even in an age in which nine-figure signings aren't unusual, many big-dollar contracts have worked out quite well for the team signing them. We remember the worst deals, given to sluggers such as Ryan Howard or pitchers such as Mike Hampton, but sometimes forget that these gigantic contracts can, in fact, work out.
So what are baseball's best big-dollar deals in recent history? To answer this, I went back and looked at estimated dollars per win above replacement for every year in every contract of a total value of $90 million or more, starting with the $91 million contract Mike Piazza signed before the 1999 season. Here are the 10 best, ranked by how many wins above replacement the signing team received above what they paid in salary. For players with years remaining on their contracts, I used the ZiPS projections for those seasons. (Note: For this exercise, I'm not including Heyward on this list, since he hasn't played a single season under this contract yet. If I were to rate him by projections alone, his deal would be the fifth-best big-money contract, with a +7.3 WAR.)