CHICAGO — The Cubs want Jason Heyward to remain around the ballclub over the season’s final two months to continue to offer his veteran perspective, leadership and example for the group of young players in the clubhouse.
At the end of this season, the Cubs and Heyward — famous for his rain delay speech to the team behind the scenes late in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series — will be parting ways.
“Jason and I have talked a lot about where things are going in the future,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said on Monday afternoon. “And I think for next year, we’re not going to have him as part of the team. We’ll go our separate directions.”
Hoyer made the announcement during a wide-ranging pregame discussion about the recent Trade Deadline, the last two months and other topics. The decision on Heyward’s future with the team came as part of an update about the veteran’s prolonged stay on the injured list.
Heyward has been sidelined with a right knee issue since late June and is not expected to play again this season, per Hoyer. After this season, the Cubs will plan on releasing the five-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder, who is owed $22 million in 2023 as part of the eight-year, $184 million free-agent contract he inked ahead of the ’16 season.
“I’ve had a pretty open dialogue with him about this,” Hoyer said. “Jason’s 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 were a big reason why he signed here have been traded away, so I think it kind of made sense for both of us. We talked through it, and we’re in a good place with it.”
Heyward was not available for comment prior to Monday’s game against the Nationals.
Heyward, who will turn 33 years old on Tuesday, moved to center field at the start of this season to accommodate the signing of free agent Seiya Suzuki. That came after years of elite defense in right, including winning two of his Gold Gloves (2016-17) with the Cubs.
Looking ahead to 2023, Suzuki will remain in right and Ian Happ projects to be in the other corner. Youngsters like Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez have been getting innings in center as Chicago weighs their place in the future roster puzzle. Top prospect Brennen Davis (currently working his way back from a back injury) should also break into the big leagues next year.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Heyward performed at a high level, hitting .265/.392/.456 with a 129 OPS+ in 50 games. After struggling in ’21, Hoyer said the team hoped to see Heyward rebound this year. That never happened.
“Obviously, he didn’t bounce back that well from it,” Hoyer said. “And given where we are as an organization — trying to give guys like Velázquez and Morel playing time, and there will be more guys like that that we want to give playing time — it felt like the right thing to do.”
Hoyer said the Cubs would be open to keeping Heyward around after this season in a coaching-type role, but the outfielder has expressed the desire to try to find a spot with another team.
Hoyer was asked how Cubs fans should remember Heyward.
“Great teammate. Great defender,” he said. “Even when he was struggling, he tried his actual hardest every day, every offseason. That’s kind of what I’ll remember.”
Hoyer added later: “In a lot of ways, he was an emotional leader of a group of players that broke the curse here and provided fans with memories for a lifetime. He should be remembered that way, as well.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism