Theo Epstein can do the impossible.
He built a Red Sox team that ended an 86-year championship drought by winning the World Series in 2004. Then, to prove it was no fluke, his Red Sox won another title in 2007. He moved on to Chicago and slayed another dragon, breathing new life into a moribund Cubs organization and winning the 2016 World Series, the franchise’s first championship in 108 years.
When they say it can’t be done, Epstein does it.
But can he find a taker for Jason Heyward and his albatross of a contract?
The latest rumor making the rounds has the Cubs unloading Heyward on the Giants in exchange for a pair of high-priced, underperforming pitchers, Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon.
Samardzija, the ex-Cub and ex-White Sox, led the National League in losses last season with 15, but also led the league with 207 innings pitched, the third consecutive year he broke the 200-inning mark. He also eclipsed 200 strikeouts for the third time in his career, fanning 205 while walking only 32 in the second year of his 5-year, $90 million deal. He’d likely be a No. 4 in the Cubs rotation behind Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana.
The Giants signed Melancon last offseason to be their closer, luring him with a 4-year, $62 million contract. Melancon struggled with arm problems, appeared in just 32 games, and blew 5 of his 16 save opportunities before undergoing season-ending arm surgery in September.
Depending on what happens with free agent Wade Davis, the Cubs could use Melancon – assuming he’s healthy – as a closer or late-inning setup man.
It’s no secret that the Cubs need pitching
help, and they have a surplus of outfielders. The Giants reportedly
see the 28-year-old Heyward as a center fielder who would be an upgrade over 33-year-old Denard Span. Even without Samardzija, their rotation would include Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner (both due for comeback seasons) and Matt Moore.
The money, at least in the short term, would be almost a wash. Samardzija and Melancon are signed through 2020; their combined annual salaries in 2018 would be $32.8 million, then $36.8 million in 2019 and 2020, when Melancon’s salary rises from $13 million to $17 million per season. Heyward’s deal averages about $23 million per season when factoring in his signing bonus, but it runs through 2023.
So, do we have the makings of a real deal?
First, Heyward and Melancon would have to waive their respective no-trade clauses. There’s no guarantee that would happen, but it’s possible both would welcome a change of scenery. Samardzija reportedly has a limited no-trade clause. He can block a deal to certain teams, though it’s unlikely the Cubs would be one of them.
And there’s also the question of pride. Are the Cubs actually willing to admit they overvalued Heyward, whose greatest accomplishment in Chicago remains his rain-delay pep talk during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series?
The expensive right fielder won his fifth career Gold Glove award Tuesday, but the Cubs thought they were getting more than a defensive stud when they signed Heyward to an 8-year, $184 million deal in December 2015.
Maybe they should have known better; Heyward’s power numbers had been declining since his career-best 27-homer, 82-RBI season of 2012. Still, he was coming off a season in which he hit .293 for the Cardinals with 13 homers and 23 stolen bases.
The Cubs pegged Heyward as a top- or middle-of-the-order hitter. He batted second during the first half of 2016, then was dropped to sixth and occasionally seventh when his average was hovering in the .230s.
Last season, when he was the highest-paid position player in the game, Heyward spent most of his time in the six or seven hole. And batted a measly .259. With just four stolen bases. And only 30 extra-base hits in 432 at-bats.
Next season, if he’s still with the Cubs, Heyward could find himself relegated to a platoon or late-inning defensive-replacement role. Moving him would open up playing time in a crowded Cubs outfield picture that includes, at least for now, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist.
Trading Heyward when his market value has tanked will be difficult, certainly. Getting value in return might be impossible, even for a sharp dealer such as Epstein. A reporter on the Giants beat tweeted Wednesday that there’s “zero chance” of a deal for Heyward.
But what were the odds that one man could end two of the most epic championship droughts in sports history?
There’s an old saying that goes, “While the difficult takes time, the impossible just takes a little longer.”
We would be wise not to put anything past Mr. Impossible himself.