Cubs moving on from Jason Heyward after 2022
Jason Heyward has most likely played his last game with the Chicago Cubs.
Jed Hoyer said before Monday’s game that the Cubs and Heyward will part ways after the 2022 season. He has one more year left on the 8-year, $184 million contract he signed before the 2016 season.
“He’s been such a great pro with us and a leader and we want to have him around the team this year but we’re not gonna have him with the team next year,” Hoyer said. “We’ve already talked to him about that. We want to give him the full offseason to be able to go out and find an opportunity.”
Heyward is currently on the IL with a right knee injury and the Cubs are not expecting him to return to the field this season. He has been out since late June and his knee is not bouncing back well in recovery.
The Cubs also want to make sure their young outfielders get playing time over the final two months of the season. Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ have locked down the corner outfield spots on a regular basis while Nelson Velázquez and Christopher Morel also need at-bats.
“For this year, I love having him around,” Hoyer said. “He provides real leadership. He’s a great sounding board for the guys. Jason and I have talked a lot about where things are going for the future and for next year, we’re not gonna have him as part of the team. We’ll go our separate directions at the end of the year and give him a chance to have that full offseason to find a job.”
Heyward turns 33 on Tuesday and is a 5-time Gold Glover (including 2016-17 with the Cubs). All told, he tallied 8.9 WAR over his 744 games in Chicago.
Before he signed with the Cubs, Heyward had a career .268 batting average and .784 OPS while averaging 16 homers a season. He struggled to live up to those numbers on the North Side, hitting .245 with a .700 OPS over the seven seasons while averaging 9 homers per year.
He enjoyed a solid 2019 season where he was league average at the plate (100 OPS+) and hit 21 homers with a .343 on-base percentage. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Heyward was arguably the team’s best hitter with a .265/.392/.456 slash line (.848 OPS).
But his performance has dropped off over the last two seasons (.211 AVG, .606 OPS) and the Cubs ultimately made the decision to move on from him after this season.
“He struggled last year and we wanted to see how he bounced back from that,” Hoyer said. “He had an excellent 2020 season. Obviously he didn’t bounce back that well from it. Given where we are as an organization, trying to give guys like Velázquez and Morel more playing time and there will be more guys like that that we want to give playing time to.
“It felt like the right thing to do given where we are as an organization. I’ve had a pretty open dialogue with him about this. Jason is a fantastic human being. He doesn’t like it but certainly understands where we are. I think it’s been a frustrating last year-and-a-half.
“A lot of the guys that have been a big part of why he signed here have been traded away. It made sense for both of us. We’ve talked through it and we’re in a good place with it.”
Over the years, teammates have been quick to credit Heyward with helping them through tough times or being a great teammate.
There was Alec Mills’ no-hitter when Heyward refused to come out of the game because he knew his defense could help out. And just last month when Happ was preparing for his first All-Star appearance, he credited Heyward unprompted for being a sounding board and stabilizing presence.
The Cubs would be open to having Heyward return to the organization in some capacity as a coach or front office assistant when his playing days are done. But he still wants to explore his future on the field first.
Heyward has been extremely active in the community during his time in Chicago. His baseball academy in North Austin is set to open this winter.
How should Heyward be remembered in this city?
“Great teammate,” Hoyer said. “He’s a great defender. Someone that even when he was struggling, tried his absolute hardest every day, every offseason. That’s what I’ll remember. He certainly had his good moments here but he had a lot of struggles as well. And when he had those struggles, he never blamed anyone, he never stopped working.
“He was always a guy that showed up in the best shape coming into every season. He was always a guy that was in the cages trying to get better. That’s probably how I’ll remember him. From my perspective, he never stopped working, never stopped trying to earn his contract, never stopped trying to be better. I think that says a lot.
“Obviously he was part of — and in a lot of ways, an emotional leader of — a group of players that broke the curse here and provided fans memories for a lifetime. He should be remembered that way as well.”