On Tuesday night, Cubs GM Theo Epstein signed Ben Zobrist, one of the most versatile and consistently productive players in baseball, to a four-year, $56 million deal. Just now, he snatched up the best outfielder on the market, 26-year-old Jason Heyward, with a deal reportedly worth $185 million over eight years. It’s no great miracle that Epstein was able to get either player, but in both cases he reportedly persuaded them to sign for less money than they were offered elsewhere.
In Zobrist’s case, the discount wasn’t that huge. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that he had a four-year, $60 million offer from the Giants on the table, but valued the chance to play for Joe Maddon on a very good Cubs team more than the extra $4 million.
As for Heyward, Epstein was competing with two other attractive destinations in the Nationals and Cardinals, but managed to hold both of them off while apparently offering Heyward less money.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals were aggressively pursuing Heyward, and offered him a contract that would have been the richest in club history. Heyward is now the second player to be pried away from the Cardinals by the Cubs this offseason, following starting pitcher John Lackey. All of this is adding up to one frightening lineup:
Getting premium talent at a discount is only a thing GMs in Theo Epstein’s very specific position can pull off. He knows he doesn’t have to offer the most money, because what he can offer—a great coach that everyone wants to play for, one of the best young lineups in the game, an organization that is now fully entering “win now” mode—can be much more valuable than money. Playing for the Cubs has never been a more attractive proposition than it is right now, and Theo Epstein isn’t letting that edge go to waste.