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Is Jason Heyward worth all the fuss?

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Nationals emerge in chase for Jason Heyward (1:38)

ESPN SweetSpot Blog senior writer David Schoenfield explains the Nationals' interest in signing OF Jason Heyward and where he thinks Heyward will ultimately sign. (1:38)

CHICAGO -- As the Chicago Cubs and the rest of the baseball world await a decision by free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward, the question beckons: Is the top outfielder on the market worth the upwards of $20 million per year he could receive in a lengthy deal?

One source indicated during the winter meetings the 26-year old was looking for a decade-long contract. Whether he gets a seven-, eight- or 10-year contract, he’s going to be getting a lot of money. Many have wondered if he is worth it, considering he has averaged 16 home runs a season over his first six years and hit just 13 in 2015.

Let’s start with the old adage: A player is worth what someone is willing to pay him. It’s a clich√©, but it’s one for a reason. If the Cubs, Cardinals or Nationals are willing to offer him a megadeal worth near or more than $200 million, then he’s worth it. If they can fit it into their budgets, then he’s worth it. If he’s a really good all-around player -- which he has been so far in his career -- then he’s worth it. Why are pitchers like David Price or Jon Lester “worth” the money but not Heyward, who plays every day? Just because he doesn’t hit home runs? Isn’t that offset by the many things he does do well and by his age?

That last point is the most important. At 26, Heyward’s skills shouldn’t be declining for many years into his new contract, unlike most free agents who sign at around 30 or later -- like the aforementioned pitchers. Theo Epstein forecast interest in a player like Heyward years ago while talking to season-ticket holders during the offseason. He wished all free agents were 25, like Masahiro Tanaka was at the time he became available. The Cubs also went after him. Epstein noted how peak ages were coming down for players, in light of PEDs and amphetamines being eliminated from the game. Subsequent years have shown how young the game has become.

Also substantial is what Heyward in his prime would bring to the Cubs. They might view him more valuable than the Cardinals would simply because the Cubs don’t need his home runs. The Cubs finished fifth in the National League last year in homers without a fully developed offense, while the Cardinals finished 11th. Heyward’s defense, contact rate and on-base ability raise his stock for the Cubs because they lack players who can contribute in those categories. He has only struck out 100 times in a season twice during his six years in the majors. He has produced a career .353 on-base percentage and has won the Gold Glove three times. No one wants to pay a little for defense, but then everyone complains when Kyle Schwarber or Jorge Soler can’t take the right route to a ball. If Joe Maddon is as serious about “run prevention” as he claims, then giving Heyward a big contract shouldn’t be a problem.

Besides, Heyward’s annual salary will probably be dwarfed in the coming years anyway. Teams might be getting a bargain for a player entering his prime. Yes, paying him might mean not paying someone else, but signing Heyward is like buying a Porsche: It’s expensive, but it’s a hell of a car -- and it might be the last one you buy for a while.

The Cubs are doing two offseasons' worth of shopping this winter, so don’t fret what they might spend on Heyward. Next offseason, they will need to fill even fewer holes as the front office will be closer to realizing its dream of having a complete team. It will be a squad that can get on base and hit with power. It will have defense up the middle and depth in the pitching staff. And it will be able to win in different ways.

Maybe the Cubs know something about Heyward's potential that the rest of us don't know. After seeing what hitting coach John Mallee did with Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Starlin Castro -- all on the fly midseason -- maybe Mallee is the key to unlocking more power. Then the Cubs really will have a complete player on their hands.

If Epstein has coveted Heyward -- and now is the one time he will be available -- expect the Cubs to be players for his services right up until the end. It doesn’t mean they should do anything ridiculous, but if the market indicates Heyward is a $200 million man, it shouldn’t stop the Cubs from acquiring a player they really like. He might just be worth it.