Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Jason Heyward
The Dodgers agreed a deal to re-sign free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward, reports Kiley McDaniel of ESPN. It’s a one-year, $9M deal for Heyward, McDaniel adds. Terms have been agreed upon, but the arrangement is still pending the completion of a physical.
After a largely underwhelming seven-year run with the Cubs, Heyward signed with the Dodgers and had a bounceback season at the plate, turning in a strong .269/.340/.473 batting line with 15 home runs and 23 doubles in 377 trips to the plate. Last years’ 17% strikeout rate was his lowest since 2018, while his 9% walk rate was his best mark since the shortened 2020 campaign. Some of those improvements stemmed from being shielded almost entirely from left-handed pitching — just 7.4% of his plate appearances came against lefties — but Heyward also showed dramatic improvement against right-handed pitching as well.
Beyond his strong year at the plate, Heyward continued to rate as an above-average defender in the outfield. Los Angeles gave him the vast majority of his work in right field, but Heyward also logged 120 innings in center field and the first 25 innings of his career in left field. On the whole, Defensive Runs Saved (+3) and Outs Above Average (+6) felt he was a strong defensive presence in his 769 frames of work.
That steady glovework from Heyward also freed the Dodgers to get creative with perennial MVP candidate Mookie Betts, who not only logged time at second base but also spent considerable time at the shortstop position for the first time in his career. Lack of experience notwithstanding, Betts proved an apt defender at both positions, giving manager Dave Roberts significant flexibility in filling out the lineup card without needing to sacrifice substantially on the defensive side of things.
Heyward’s return could once again free Betts to log significant time in the infield — particularly against right-handed pitching. Against southpaws, Betts can return to his more customary right field. Other names in L.A.’s outfield mix include center fielder James Outman, utilityman/left fielder Chris Taylor and top prospect Andy Pages, who might’ve debuted in 2023 had shoulder surgery not cut his season short. Pages is expected to be ready for spring training, the Dodgers announced at the time of his June surgery, but Heyward’s return takes some pressure off him as he ramps back up from that procedure. And, if Pages ultimately pushes his way onto the big league roster, his right-handed bat will give Roberts a natural complement to lefties like Heyward and Outman.
It’s possible the Dodgers will bring in additional outfield help — they’ve been tied to Teoscar Hernandez, most notably — but starting pitching has been the primary focus for president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Brandon Gomes and the rest of the front office thus far. In addition to their widely expected pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers have been connected to free agents like Blake Snell and the now off-the-market Aaron Nola, in addition to trade candidate Dylan Cease.
From a payroll perspective, Heyward’s straight $9M deal brings the Dodgers up to about $150M in projected spending, per Roster Resource. They’re well shy of the $23M luxury tax threshold at this point, sitting between $167M-$168M (using MLBTR’s projected 2024 arbitration salaries). That could leave them with as much around $70M before they reach luxury tax status — though paying the CBT has not historically been a concern for the deep-pocketed Dodgers.
With Heyward on a one-year commitment and other veterans such as Blake Treinen, Miguel Rojas and Austin Barnes potentially coming off the books at the end of the 2024 season, the Dodgers have under $100M of luxury-tax obligations on the books beyond the 2024 campaign. Bringing back Heyward on this contract maintains much of that enormous long-term flexibility in an offseason where the market features several candidates for weighty long-term deals (Ohtani, Snell and Yoshinobu Yamamoto among them).
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