Jason Heyward is the best free baseball agent left on the market, and the market appears to be heating up.

According to Fox Sports’ JP Morosi, the Angels, Cardinals and Cubs are the teams in on the 26-year-old outfielder.

Morosi’s report comes hours after he tweeted that the battle for Heyward’s services would come down to the Cubs and Cardinals alone.

Heyward played for the Cardinals last season, batting .293/.359/.439 with 13 home runs, 23 stolen bases and a 6.5 Baseball-Reference WAR boosted by his Gold-Glove defense.

For the Cubs, the prospect of signing Heyward becomes even more appealing if doing so keeps him from their division rivals in St. Louis. There could even be some gamesmanship here, with Theo Epstein and company attempting to run up the price to make life harder on the Cardinals.

However, reports seem to suggest Chicago’s pursuit of Heyward is about more than just bugging St. Louis.

According to Morosi, the Cubs’ signing of Ben Zobrist does not preclude them from going after Heyward, who has played mostly right field in his career but could fill center with Zobrist and Jorge Soler already manning right in Chicago.

The Angels’ late-entry to the Heyward sweepstakes is reminiscent of when they swooped in from out of nowhere to sign Albert Pujols from the Cardinals during the winter of 2012.

That offseason also established that St. Louis will not overpay to keep its own free agents, so no one should be surprised if the Cardinals let Heyward walk.

As for the terms of Heyward’s eventual deal, expect lots of years and lots of money. It’s very rare a player of Heyward’s caliber hits free agency so young, and while 10-year contracts are always a highly-risky proposition, signing a 26-year-old for a decade is at least safer than inking a 30-year-old for that long. Heyward could also opt for fewer years at a higher annual salary in hopes of hitting free agency again with some good years left in him.

On the other hand, a Tom Verducci report from the Winter Meetings conveyed some degree of skepticism about Heyward’s ability to hit moving forward.

“He scares me,” said one manager. “With that swing, there is a possibility that you sign him to that contract and he just doesn’t hit. That’s a scary possibility. When you sign someone for that kind of money, you want to feel pretty sure what you’re going to get. I don’t think you know what to expect. That swing is so raw. It did get a little better this year, but it’s still raw.

“I’ve seen the metrics. When you look at those numbers, and you see the guys he’s compared with, I just don’t see it.”

Here’s another manager: “That swing scares me. I think you can tie him up, and I don’t see where the power is going to come from, even with his size. Don’t get me wrong. I like him. There’s a lot of things he can do. But he’s not an impact bat.
One executive quoted in Verducci’s story compared Heyward to Paul O’Neill, and a manager said the outfielder is only a “complimentary player.” If that’s the case, he’s a complimentary player who is about to become very, very wealthy.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.