Commentary: Jason Heyward's goodbye is bittersweet
|Tuesday, August 9, 2022, 7:28 PM- -|
Jason Heyward's professional baseball career began in 2010, hitting a homer in his first career game against the Chicago Cubs on opening day. Heyward put together one of his best seasons, earning an all-star selection and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. Years later, Heyward signed an eight-year 184 million dollar contract with the Cubs — coming off of a season in which he drove in 60 runs and batted .293 for a Cardinals team that the Cubs beat in the playoffs.
Heyward was the missing superstar from that 2015 team, and the Cubs viewed him as one of the links that could make the Cubs a championship-caliber team in 2016.
Heyward failed to perform to his contact in 2016 — hitting just .230 and driving in 49 runs. Many attributed Heyward's struggling to the pressure of signing a mega deal like that. Quickly, Heyward's struggles grew normal. The highest Heyward's average ever was in Chicago was .270 in 2018. The most home runs Heyward hit in a Cubs uniform was in 2019, when he hit 21 dingers and drove in 62 runs. None of those benchmarks are close to what a player making over 20 million dollars a year. Heyward averaged less than ten home runs and less than 50 RBIs with an average below .250.
The point is that Heyward underperformed mightily during his tenure in Chicago. While he has battled injuries in 2022, Jed Hoyer has made it known recently that Heyward's playing days in Chicago are done. Heyward will not be returning to action this season for the Cubs, nor will he be on the team in 2023 — as the Cubs have made their plans to release him following this year known to the 33-year-old outfielder.
But the fact is, Heyward did provide immense value to the Cubs during his seven years — despite not much of it showing up on box scores or the back of baseball cards.
Heyward's defense is not to be overlooked. Heyward won gold gloves for his work in right field in 2016 and 2017 and contributed mightily to the Cubs' first-ever team gold glove in 2020.
Not to mention, what might have been Heyward's best facet, was the leadership he provided. Much has been made of the speech Jason Heyward made during the 2016 World Series. Game 7 was one of the best baseball games of all time, but it did not come without a bit of fear for Cubs fans. While the Cubs jumped out to an early lead, the Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians) hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth, and the Cubs looked to be dead in the water without any momentum. Then, the rain came after the ninth inning, and the game would go to a rain delay before going to extra innings. The Cubs eventually won the game 8-7 in 10 innings, but what happened during that rain delay?
Jason Heyward delivered some of the most powerful speeches in Cub's history. He reminded the Cubs that they were the best team in baseball and harnessed their emotions toward winning on the field. And, as they say, the rest is history.
"It's very easy for him to impact other guys in the clubhouse," manager and former teammate David Ross on Jason Heyward.
Winning that World Series feels so far away now for the Cubs, who are in the midst of another rebuild. Did Heyward's lack of production lead to the rebuild coming faster than it would have? Maybe. Did the money "wasted" on Heyward lead to Tom Ricketts having less motivation to give the Business Operations department more money to spend? Maybe. Did Jason Heyward underperform his massive contract? Yes. But would the Cubs go back in time and make this move again? Also Yes.
The Chicago Cubs do not win the 2016 World Series without Jason Heyward, which makes this departure a bittersweet goodbye.