There’s no two ways around it. Last year – and this spring – Jason Heyward was bad. The veteran Cubs outfielder turned in a 68 OPS+ in 2021 and followed it up in Cactus League action by striking out in 11 of his 28 trips to the plate, en route to a .130/.231/.217 slash line.
As camps wound down, there was real speculation as to whether or not the Cubs would bring Heyward north with them for Opening Day. When the Angels designated Justin Upton for assignment, eating the $28 million remaining on his contract in the process, many felt Chicago should do the same with Heyward.
But the team opted to bring their clubhouse leader with them and, so far, it’s paid off.
It’s an admittedly small 7-game, 20-plate appearance sample size, but Heyward has an .848 OPS entering action Tuesday. Thankfully, it looks like David Ross and the coaching staff have quickly come to terms with something we’ve all known for years now: Heyward should rarely, if ever, take at-bats against left-handed pitching.
Of his 20 trips to the dish, just two have come against southpaws (for what it’s worth, he’s gone 1-for-2). Against right-handers, he’s been very strong, evidenced by a .389 OBP. Again, it’s a very small sample size, but Heyward has at least pulled his own weight at the dish. Given the team’s bevy of day-to-day roster configurations, we can see why he’s in a more limited role, but it’s one he’s taken to and, so far, found some success.
If the Cubs were a legitimate World Series contender (no, as exciting as they’ve been so far, there’s a chasmic gap between Chicago and, say, the Dodgers) and Heyward was just gumming things up, maybe he doesn’t get that roster spot. But the team has nothing to lose by carrying him as a platoon matchup outfielder, assuming he’s at least a league average bat.
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Could the team wind up putting Heyward on the block if he can sustain his early success? Perhaps. But unloading the remainder of his contract won’t be an easy task for Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins. We can speculate more on that as the season winds on and the trade deadline approaches. For now, let’s just give credit where credit is due – Heyward has been solid, despite what many of us anticipated heading into the season.