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No, the Cubs should not DFA Jason Heyward

The Heyward hate is out of control.

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Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

NEWS ITEM: The Mets designated Robinson Cano for assignment as part of their roster cuts to get down to the 26-man limit in effect as of Monday:

At the start of the season, the Mets still owed Canó $40.5 million of his contract, per Spotrac.

This started the usual outcry of “DFA Jason Heyward!” from a certain segment of Chicago Cubs fans.

I’m here to tell you that’s a dumb idea.

The Cubs owe Heyward, for the balance of his contract, about $40 million as of this moment. The original Heyward deal, eight years and $184 million, was signed prior to the 2016 season. It is true that Heyward’s production over the six-plus years he’s been a Chicago Cub, has not lived up to the large contract. Granted and stipulated.

When Cano was let go — and make no mistake, this probably ends his career — he was hitting .195/.233/.268. He’s 39 and coming off his second PED suspension, which cost him the entire 2021 season.

Heyward... well, he’s doing better than that. He is currently batting .244/.340/.317 (10-for-41) with a double and a triple. He’s also seven years younger than Cano; this is Heyward’s age-32 season. He’s played adequate defense in center field and currently has a slight positive fWAR figure: +0.1.

Let’s compare those figures to Rafael Ortega’s. Ortega — who is a bit more than two years younger than Heyward — is currently batting .204/.304/.286 (10-for-49) with four doubles. His center field defense is mediocre and he’s at -0.2 fWAR. Granted, the difference in WAR figures between the two isn’t that large.

But I’d rather keep Heyward around. He has shown that he can hit consistently in the major leagues, if not at an All-Star level, at least well enough to start in a platoon situation.

There’s one more thing to consider, whether you think this is important or not. No, I’m not talking about his World Series speech. I’m talking about his ability to mentor younger players. This article is from a year ago, but it talks about how Heyward began to mentor Ed Howard, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2020:

Like Howard, Heyward was drafted by his hometown Atlanta Braves and starred for five seasons in his native Atlanta.

“I think it’s just someone who can relate to playing for your hometown,” Heyward said. “There’s a lot of cool things about it, there’s a lot of things you gotta learn the way about it, just like anything.”

And in Heyward, Howard has an ideal mentor. Heyward is respected across the league and he’s known as much for his skills on the field as off it.

“I think one of the things you see with guys like Jason Heyward is not only just what they bring with a physical person, but the leadership, the role models, the things they bring into the clubhouse for the organization and the community,” [Curtis] Granderson said. “People talk about those intangibles that may not necessarily be quantified, but he’s a living example of it. He helped get that 2016 Cubs team to spark up and get that World Series here. He helped push the messaging and the mission of what the Players Alliance is and he’s gonna continue to do a lot more here.

“He’s home here in Chicago. He’s here when he could be in Georgia, not in this rain and mist. But he’s here because he loves everything this whole city has been about and not only the city of Chicago, but everywhere throughout the country.”

Those things matter. Baseball isn’t just plugging in numbers to different positions. These young men are human beings and they need to learn how to carry themselves both in the clubhouse and off the field. Heyward does that well. Without saying anything negative about Rafael Ortega, he doesn’t have the long experience that Heyward does, and that sort of thing does have value to a major league baseball team.

It seems to me that a lot of the resentment toward Heyward is the large contract. They have to pay that money whether he’s on the team or not. Why not get some mentoring value while they’re paying him? His on-the-field performance is good enough, for now, in my view.

This coming offseason, I suspect the Cubs will try to trade Heyward, eating most of the contract, though he now has full 10-and-5 rights and would have to approve any trade. Perhaps the Braves would take on a small amount of that deal and send the Cubs an A-ball lottery ticket so Heyward could finish his career in his hometown. I could see them releasing him and paying one year’s worth of that deal.

But now? Why? He brings value to the clubhouse and he’s decent enough on the field. Hope he sticks around for at least the rest of the 2022 season.


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