MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Cardinals need to break the bank for Heyward

Cardinals need to break the bank for Heyward

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The St. Louis Cardinals are going to have to spend some serious money to retain the top spot in the National League Central.

And the money that they'd have to spend to bring free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward back to St. Louis is going to be in the "whatever it takes" category.

Hot Stove Tracker

Heyward would be the Cardinals' primary offseason target. He's a multitalented player who, at 26, is young for a free agent. With the advent of advanced defensive metrics, Heyward's worth as a Gold Glove defensive player can be more accurately measured and valued.

All of this will make Heyward expensive, but for a club that has won the division three straight years, had the best record in baseball in 2015 and holds the highest aspirations for the future, he appears to be something very much like a necessity.

DeWitt Jr. on Heyward

The Cardinals know it better than most. Heyward was a major contributor to their 100-victory 2015 season. He fits with the Cards. They need him. And they genuinely like him.

"It's been an honor. It's been a pleasure to get to know him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.

And by all reports, that respect was reciprocated by Heyward.

"Just in conversations with Jason, I do believe that it was great experience for him, because it was a great experience for us," Matheny said.

Cardinals confident in progress with Heyward

Matheny sounded genuinely optimistic about the Cards' chances of re-signing Heyward. They communicate frequently with the free agent.

"We're a texting culture," Matheny said with a smile.

Matheny on Heyward, Cards' staff

The Cardinals' need to keep Heyward is an objective call. Now we get into a related, but slightly more subjective area of concern for the Redbirds. It can be summed up like this:

Just look what the Chicago Cubs are doing this offseason.

Cubs introduce Zobrist with 4-year deal

The Cubs have been exceedingly active. They signed starting pitcher John Lackey, last employed by the Cards, to a two-year deal. They gave a four-year deal to the versatile Ben Zobrist, who was an integral part of the Royals' World Series championship. Zobrist had previously thrived with Tampa Bay, where he was managed by, of course, current Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

The signing of Zobrist allowed the Cubs to trade second baseman Starlin Castro to the Yankees. In return, the Cubs received Adam Warren, who has demonstrated the ability to pitch both in relief and as a starter. The Cubs also will receive a player to be named, believed to be Brendan Ryan, a backup infielder who is a first-rate defender.

Cubs' Winter Meetings headlines

On the St. Louis side of the argument, the Cardinals traded for Jedd Gyorko, who could emerge as an extremely helpful "super-utility guy," as Matheny put it. In any case, Gyorko should offer an offensive upgrade for the Cards' bench.

Cards land Gyorko, deal Jay to Padres

The Cardinals were three games better than the Cubs in the regular season, but the Cubs defeated the Cards in the NL Division Series. Championships aren't won in December, but the Cubs, at this moment, have a sizable offseason lead.

In these circumstances, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak suggested Wednesday that the St. Louis organization might have to alter a fiscal strategy that has been both disciplined and successful.

"A lot of times, it comes to money when you boil it all down," Mozeliak said. "Historically, we haven't [been the highest bidder]. That's something that we may have to recalibrate ourselves and rethink it.

"But we've had a very disciplined process to date, and it has worked. I think we all recognize that sometimes you have to change. Sometimes you have to do things that maybe get you out of your comfort zone. I'm not suggesting that's exactly what we'll do, but my point is you think back over the last couple of years and the model is definitely working. But the game is changing a bit. Are we going to change with it? It's certainly something that we understand that we have to be cognizant of and willing to expect."

That's good, but what about those Cubs? Asked for his perception of the Cubs' moves, Matheny replied: "[They're doing] the same thing we are, trying to get better. They've made some big moves, and it doesn't surprise us at all.

"It's the National League Central, and it's not going anywhere. They're going to try to continue to push forward, just like we are. ... You can do whatever you want this time of year, but it all comes down to competing, and we look forward to the fact that you're going to have to earn it.

"If you're going to win the Central, you're going to have some scars, some bruises. You're going to know you were in a fight. I anticipate that's the way it's going to be, and I would hope that's how they view us as well."

This division contained the three best records in baseball in 2015 -- St. Louis (100-62), Pittsburgh (98-64) and Chicago (97-65), 295 victories among three clubs.

Matheny was right. There was merciless completion in this division. This is another reason why the Cardinals can't afford to lose the services of Heyward.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.