By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) The Cubs are looking for a top-flight outfielder this offseason who can get on base and bat near the top of the batting order. With that in mind, the team must decide whether to go full bore into signing 2015 lead-off man and center fielder Dexter Fowler, who has become a free agent. Then based off that, the Cubs may have to react quickly by getting into the mix for other free-agent outfielders.
The top corner outfielders that the Cubs have interest in are Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward. Gordon will turn 32 in February, and he’s a four-time Gold Glove winning left fielder. Heyward will turn 27 in August. Like Gordon, Heyward is strong defensively, with two Gold Gloves to his name. Both players have rockets for arms.
Both players have similar slash lines. Gordon has averaged nearly 18 homers and about 72 RBIs over the past five seasons for the Royals, during which he was really durable before being limited to 104 games in 2015. His career OPS is .783, including .809 in 2015.
Heyward drives in fewer runs but may have more home run potential. He had 13 homers and 60 RBIs while hitting .293 with a .797 OPS in 154 games for the Cardinals last season. Heyward also has more speed, as he stole 23 bases this past season.
Money and the number of others clubs interested in Heyward and Gordon will be a determining factor for the Cubs in acquiring either player. Five-year contracts are the norm for players of the caliber of Gordon and Heyward. Gordon is expected to leave the small-market Royals and sign elsewhere. In the case of Heyward, the Cardinals figure to have interest in retaining him, but his contract may be longer due to the fact he’s younger and in his first go-round as a free agent.
With the Cubs’ having a penchant to build around versatile players who can play multiple positions, Gordon and Heyward will be asked if they would be willing to play other positions. This type of dynamic has been a part of what Cubs manager Joe Maddon wants to be able to do with his roster each season.
Drafted No. 2 overall in 2005 by the Royals, Gordon was originally a third baseman. Would Gordon balk at a move from a position in which he’s considered the best in baseball? A move to right field would certainly come up in any talks between Gordon and the Cubs, who understand that Kyle Schwarber would be better suited to stay in left field full-time in the future.
The athletic Heyward will also be asked if a full- or part-time move to center filed would be acceptable to him. Heyward moved over to center against the Cubs in the NLDS in October. The Cubs sent out questionnaires to their scouts at the end of the season on many different subjects, and one of the queries asked of those individuals was whether Heyward could play center field in their determination.
Both players would be ideal No. 2 hitters in the Cubs lineup. Gordon has a .348 career on-base percentage. Heyward has a .353 career on-base percentage.
The power aspect of each lefty-swinging player’s game in intriguing. The NL Central is a left-handed hitter’s dream right now, as most of the ballparks in the division are favorable for lefties, and the pitching staffs are heavy on right-handers.
Projecting both players to have 60 to 70 extra-base hits wouldn’t be a stretch. With the big bats of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Schwarber potentially surrounding them in a lineup, either Heyward or Gordon could easily prosper and have their best seasons over the life of their next contracts.
Expect Heyward and Gordon to be looking for contracts that average between $17 million and $20 million per season. As expected, both were extended qualifying offers of $15.8 million by their previous clubs.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.