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Is Jason Heyward the Red Sox' biggest trade target?

The Red Sox already have plenty of outfielders. Why they might be looking to add another one.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox could be interested in trading for Jason Heyward this offseason, writes Nick Cafardo, saying that the young Atlanta outfielder's name has "come up":

[Heyward is] definitely a name that's come up. The Braves will likely need to make some offensive upgrades and Heyward could definitely be part of that. The Red Sox may dangle a Yoenis Cespedes, but not sure if the Braves would bite on something like that with Cespedes entering the final season of his contract.

Heyward might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of a superstar trade target (Giancarlo Stanton has ruined that for everyone), but he does fit the bill. It's hard to pin down just exactly what sort of player he is, given just how much he's varied from year to year. In his rookie season, Heyward looked like a major on-base threat. In 2012, he blasted 27 homers. In both 2012 and 2013, he swiped 20 bases. Throughout, he's played high-quality defense in right. It all adds up to a pretty impressive resume for a player's first five seasons.

What makes it that much more impressive is that Jason Heyward turned 25 in August. As it stands, Heyward is a fine player, just maybe not the best fit for a Red Sox team with Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo lined up to play the more challenging defensive positions in the outfield. It's not hard to draw parallels between Heyward and the ghost of outfields past in Carl Crawford. Crawford brought a track record of good-not-great offense and top-flight defense where the Red Sox didn't really need it to the table, and much the same can be said for Heyward.

But with Crawford, that was the finished product. His potential for improvement from his age 28 to his age 30 season (a concept which, in retrospect, is both hilarious and depressing) was certainly not going to offset the decline as he reached the second half of his contract in Boston. But for Heyward...For Heyward the All-Star level play he's shown thus far is the foundation to build on.

Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson - USA Today Sports

His age is actually an even bigger deal for the Red Sox than it might be for most other teams. After all, Boston has been reluctant to offer up huge deals to free agents ever since that whole Crawford fiasco. But there's a big difference between offering seven years up to a player on the verge of decline, and offering them to a player not yet even in his prime.

And make no mistake, if the Red Sox do acquire Jason Heyward from Atlanta, it's not with an eye to let him leave after 2015. The Braves' attempts to extend their young star haven't been fruitful, but their payroll only just jumped over $100 million for the first time in 2014--the Red Sox are simply in another league when it comes to finances.

What is worth asking is how Heyward's camp will approach a contract extension given his age. On the one hand, they could aim for a deal as long as he is young, since teams will be more willing to give super-lengthy contracts to younger players. On the other hand, they could aim to have Heyward back in free agency just in time for a second huge contract after anywhere from five to seven years. One has to imagine the Red Sox would prefer the latter situation, leaving the riskier years to whoever comes next.

Somewhere in-between lies the idea of an opt-out, where Heyward gets a lengthy contract but has the ability to hit free agency in four or five years if he's in line for that big payday, or to just stick with it if things have somehow gone south. This amounts to essentially a multi-year player option, the sort of thing which the Red Sox have been firmly opposed to in years gone by. Still, if that's the one unfortunate rider on a contract that gets the Red Sox in and out before Heyward hits 33, it's hard to imagine they let that get in their way.

All this, however, comes after the trade. And while a Heyward trade seems likely given the Braves' failed extension attempts, there's no guarantee it will end up involving Boston in any way. They will hardly be the only ones looking to snatch Heyward and sign him long-term, and if they have the talent to get the deal done, when the return is one year of Heyward and exclusive bargaining rights for 2015, there's reason to believe they won't be interested in dumping the farm on this deal. This is not some deal the Sox can swing with Cespedes--he would be a pretty strict downgrade for Atlanta in a one-for-one deal--they're going to have to surrender real prospects, because if they don't, someone else will.

Obviously, whether or not this gets done could come down to details. If the Braves value players the Red Sox don't, then it's an easy swap. If Heyward's contract demands are absolutely insane, then it won't. But on a larger scale, there's a philosophical question being asked of the Sox here: need, or opportunity. The Red Sox don't need Heyward. They've got too many outfielders as is, frankly.

But trades can be made. Value can be shifted from one position to another, and space can be opened up. Heyward represents a rare opportunity to sign the sort of player who demands huge money without taking on nearly so much risk as they typically represent. When you put the depth chart away and just start looking at the player and the contract, Heyward is pretty close to the ideal Red Sox target.

Whether they'll be willing to jump through hoops to make it all work out, though, is anyone's guess.