State of the Cubs

State of the Cubs: Right Field

2 years agoAndy Martinez

Uncertainty will be the name of the game around Major League Baseball this winter as the league navigates its first offseason following the pandemic-shortened campaign.

It’s impossible to predict exactly how things will play out in a winter unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the sport, but let’s take a look at where the Cubs stand with each position group heading into the offseason.

Next up: Right Field

Depth Chart

  1. Jason Heyward
  2. Ian Happ
  3. Albert Almora Jr.

Analysis

For all his defensive prowess, Jason Heyward took another offensive step forward in 2020. Statistically, 2020 was the best offensive season of his career since his rookie campaign.

His .848 OPS and 130 weighted runs created-plus this season were the second highest of his career and his walk-rate (16.6%) and walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.81) were career-bests. Heyward ranked 5th among all right fielders with at least 180 plate appearances in on-base percentage (.392). He also led the Cubs’ offense in WAR (1.8, per FanGraphs) and was second behind Ian Happ in OPS.

Heyward showed the ability to be clutch, too. On Sept. 12 in Milwaukee with the Cubs trailing 2-0 and one out against the Brewers’ Josh Hader, Jason Heyward delivered a 3-run home run on 1-2 count to propel the Cubs to a come-from-behind 4-2 win over the Brewers. He had 15 RBI and an .858 OPS with runners in scoring position and a 1.091 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs. He was 5-for-7 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI in the 9th inning or later.

Couple that with his Gold-Glove-level defense and the Cubs should feel secure about their standing in right field. Heyward had a 1.2 defensive WAR, per FanGraphs, the 4th best on the Cubs behind Willson Contreras, Nico Hoerner and Javy Báez. Heyward is a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award in right Field along with the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, the Diamondbacks’ Kole Calhoun and the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts.

What’s next?

Heyward’s place in right field is safely entrenched, and it’s not just because of his play this season. He still has 3 years and $63 million left on the 8-year, $184 million deal he signed prior to the 2016 season. Barring something drastic, Heyward will be the Cubs’ starting right fielder when they kick off the 2021 season. His diversity is exactly what the Cubs need in their lineup: he’s patient, he can make contact consistently, he has some pop and he can get on base. 

Cameron Maybin (5), Steven Souza Jr. (4) and Ian Happ (2) all started in right field this season at one point. Maybin is a free agent at the end of the season and Souza was designated for assignment in early September. Happ is solidified in center, leaving no true backup for Heyward in right. If the Cubs decide to tender Almora a contract, he could start in center and Happ could shift to right on days when Heyward needs a break.

The Cubs could be looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder that can fill in for Heyward on off days and can platoon against left-handed pitching. Heyward slashed just .167/.262/.306 against left-handers in 2020 . The Cubs signed Souza in the offseason to fill that role, but he hit just .148 in 31 plate appearances. Maybin was brought in to fill in that role, but he was just 1-for-10 against lefties.

Bottom Line

There’s no doubt Heyward is the Cubs’ starting right fielder. The Cubs may be in the market for some additional depth not just for right field, but the outfield as a whole. A platoon bat who can hit lefties and can play the outfield will be something the Cubs might look to add ahead of 2021.

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