That has never been as obvious as it was during the 2021 campaign, when Heyward was more than 30 percent worse than league average at the plate in terms of OPS+. A concussion ended his season early and he’s heading into next year on what can, at best, be called shaky ground.
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has his feet under him now and is hard at work with his new-look front office rebuilding the roster to his liking. After a slow start to the offseason, the surprising addition of Marcus Stroman has optimism surging again with fans – and there’s little doubt there’s more to come once the MLB lockout concludes (whenever that may be).
Among the needs that still need to be checked off Chicago’s shopping list include another outfield addition, hopefully a power bat for a corner spot. Hoyer already brought in a platoon option in Harold Ramirez from Cleveland and a buy-low rebound candidate in Clint Frazier, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cubs take a run at someone like Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler or Tommy Pham.
That, of course, is assuming the lion’s share of the remaining budget is earmarked for a Carlos Correa pursuit given the team is listed as co-favorites to land the former AL Rookie of the Year, along with the Yankees. If Correa winds up elsewhere, then there’s the chance Chicago takes a longer look at guys like Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant or Nick Castellanos – the three higher-profile outfield options still available.
Either way, this is a critical year for Heyward. He played in just 104 games this year which marked his fewest (excluding the 60-game 2020 season) since way back in 2013 with Atlanta. And, like I said, even when he was on the field, there wasn’t a lot of good things happening.
Aside from his defense, which is still above average – albeit not elite like it once was – Heyward left plenty to be desired in 2021. His .275WOBA ranked in the bottom six percent of the league as his walk rate fell to a career-low.
Would the Cubs consider dumping Jason Heyward if he doesn’t hit in 2022?
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: if Heyward fails to rebound next year at the plate, will Hoyer be content burning a roster spot on the veteran with an eye on the future? Either way, you’re going to pay him the $44 million he’s owed through 2023 because nobody’s taking that deal on in a trade. But if Frazier finds a groove in Chicago, Ian Happ builds on his scorching hot finish and Brennen Davis arrives in Chicago, are you really going to give those at-bats to Heyward?
Of course, we can’t answer that question yet. For all we know, the veteran will make adjustments and, while he likely won’t put up the numbers he did in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, perhaps he can get back to the 97 OPS+ we saw from 2018 to 2019. If he can do that, the Cubs will let the clock run out on him over the next two years.
But, if not, there could be an unceremonious end to the five-time Gold Glover’s tenure on the North Side.