Cubs fans should be very appreciative of Jason Heyward’s career

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

The common trope for players signed to long-term deals is that they’re going to get progressively worse as the deal goes on. This is to be expected of course, as father time is of course undefeated, and most players in major league baseball don’t reach free agency until their mid-to-late 20’s if they’re lucky. Jason Heyward was no different, signing an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Cubs at age 26 after his dominant 2015 in St. Louis. Heyward, however, has had a very different arc since signing his mega-deal.

Heyward flat out struggled in 2016. Heyward had by far the worst offensive season of his career, with his OPS being over 70 points lower than his second-worst career mark. Heyward was his typical elite self defensively, but was a liability at the plate and found himself the target of much criticism among Cub fans.

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But Heyward never let any of it get to him. Even though his struggles continued throughout the 2016 postseason, Heyward was responsible for quite possibly the most important moment in the franchise’s history. The famous rain delay speech during that fateful 10th inning rain delay in Cleveland was the moment many came around on the right fielder.

The moment established Heyward as a team leader and even though no one realized it at the time, it made him truly invaluable to the team. Many people still weren’t high on him going into 2017 as he was still coming off a brutal season and most players don’t get any better throughout long-term contracts.

Heyward, however, defied the stereotype and kept working to make himself a better player at the plate. It’s simply a reality that when some players get large contracts, they get much more complacent with the player they are and don’t adjust as much to make themselves better but Jason Heyward showed the type of character he is and completely overhauled his swing in an attempt to change his fortunes at the plate. 

Cubs are getting more out of Jason Heyward with each passing year

What’s followed has been four years of increased offensive output since his dreadful 2016. Heyward has continued to work to improve himself and it’s paid off for him as a result, including a career-high 132 OPS+ in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. While many players on Cubs have gotten progressively worse since that championship season, Heyward certainly hasn’t, and fans should be appreciative of that.

Fans should be thankful for more than just his on-field production, however. Heyward has been an important leader in the clubhouse, an active member of the Chicago community, a vocal advocate for social justice, and has embraced playing in Chicago as a whole.

This guy has given Cubs fans so many fun memories over the years, although the first Heyward-Cubs-related memory may not be too fond to remember. From his electrifying walk-off grand slam against the Phillies in 2018, his unreal catch in San Francisco that he sacrificed his health for, or even his walk-off just this past week against the Mets, Heyward has given Cubs fans memories that we’ll look back on years from now and remember fondly.

The Cubs are likely to lose a good amount of familiar faces after this season, but Heyward is here to stay for the near future and may wind up being the last remaining player from the 2016 team on the North Side.

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The veteran has worked his way into being a fan favorite and it’s well deserved. Hopefully, Heyward can continue to be a productive player for the remainder of his time in Chicago, and Cubs fans continue to cherish his remaining time as a Cub.