Cubs: With change in the air, will this soon be Jason Heyward’s team?

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Few seem to have seriously considered the possibility the Cubs fail to extend all three of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. But in an increasingly financial-driven game, there’s a chance that happens.

If that’s how the next eight months play out and Chicago winds up losing three of their biggest names – and leaders – in free agency, there’s one guy who will be expected to fill the gaping leadership vacuum in short order: veteran outfielder Jason Heyward.

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Heyward, still often harangued for the eight-year, $184 million contract he signed prior to the 2016 season, has long been one of the calming presences and biggest leaders in the clubhouse. Of course, no Cubs fan will ever forget his iconic weight room speech during the rain delay of Game 7 five years ago.

"“I want to see these guys do amazing things on the field,” Heyward told “But, I also want them to get their families set. I want to see them rewarded for what they’ve worked for. This is a hard game. So, in that, I just want them to have comfort in going out there and playing, competing, having fun.”"

While Chicago isn’t the favorite in the division, let alone the NL postseason picture, don’t expect Heyward to let anyone on this team take their foot off the gas. He’s always been an intense competitor. With years and experience, though, he’s become a guy who knows when to push and when to pull back – something some athletes never manage to master.

Jason Heyward is critical for the Cubs on the field and in the clubhouse

Last season, Heyward turned in the best offensive performance of his Cubs career, batting .265/.392/.456 and putting up 1.5 WAR according to Baseball Reference. He ranked as a solidly above-average player in terms of both OPS+ and wRC+ and he’s ready to build off that success heading into his age-31 season.

"“We’re so lucky to have him around here,” Cubs ace Kyle Hendricks said. “Ever since he came over, he’s the best teammate we’ve ever had. Now, to grow into that leadership role and be a little more vocal, it’s just cool to see.”"

Next. Five spring questions facing the Cubs in Arizona. dark

If the Cubs fail to lock up any of their big three this spring and look like they’re just treading water through the first half, we could see the unthinkable: Jed Hoyer trading a Rizzo or a Baez in hopes of getting something for them before the end of the year. While I don’t think the front office will totally whiff in extension talks, it’s definitely worth noting that, one way or another, Jason Heyward will be a critical presence for this team in 2021 and for the next few years.