In an announcement to reporters before tonight’s game, Cubs team president Jed Hoyer announced that the Cubs would release outfielder Jason Heyward at the end of the season. He added that the Cubs are not expecting him to return this season from the knee injury that currently has Heyward on the injured list, which means that the 32-year-old Heyward has probably played his last game in a Cubs uniform.
Hoyer also said that the Cubs will not release Heyward this season and that “He’s been such a great pro with us and a leader and we want to have him around the team this year.” But he is not making sufficient progress in recovery from his knee injury and that the Cubs would prefer to give at-bats to other players in any case.
Heyward signed a big eight-year, $184 million free agent contract with the Cubs before the 2016 season. Although the Cubs won the World Series that year, Heyward had the worst season of his career up to that point in 2016. That poor season left a poor first impression with many Cubs fans, although that negative impression was tempered by the famous speech he gave during the rain delay of Game 7 of the World Series. Although Heyward was better and much more productive from 2017 to 2020, he never really played like a star outfielder that the Cubs were hoping for when they signed him to that large contract.
But the past two seasons for Heyward have been rough. Heyward is no longer the elite defensive right fielder that he had been and his offensive production has been poor. Heyward has played only 48 games this season and has hit just .204/.278/.277 with one home run. Although he has been playing hurt much of the time this year, that’s still well-below replacement level production.
The writing had been on the wall for the end of Heyward’s Cubs’ career when the team signed right fielder Seiya Suzuki to a free agent contract this past spring. Although the Cubs tried to see if Heyward could handle center field, such a move was never likely to succeed with his decreasing athleticism. It didn’t, and now there is no room for him in the outfield. The Cubs want to give rookies Suzuki and Nelson Velázquez a chance to show what they can do in right field for the rest of this season.
One place where Heyward has never disappointed is in the clubhouse and in the community. Hoyer called Heyward a great teammate who tried hard and worked hard every day. He added that Heyward never blamed anyone else when he struggled on the field. He’s going to continue to provide moral support and mentorship to the younger players for the rest of this season. In the community, the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy is set to open in the North Austin neighborhood of Chicago this upcoming offseason.
And perhaps that is how Heyward’s tenure with the Cubs should be remembered. When Hoyer said that in addition to his hard work and his dedication to his teammates and community, Heyward “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.”
Hoyer has been speaking with Heyward about this for at least a month, so he knew this announcement was coming. Hoyer said that he wanted to give Heyward a chance to find somewhere else to play next season. Heyward did tell Hoyer that he’s not ready to retire and still wants to play next season, but the Cubs have made it clear that they would be open to having Heyward join the organization in a coaching or front office position.
I’m sure that Al will have more on this story in the morning.