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Cubs: Will Seiya Suzuki’s return spell the end for Jason Heyward?

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /
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It’s been two weeks since Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki injured his left ring finger sliding into second base in a matchup against the Reds in Cincinnati, but all signs point to him returning this weekend against the Yankees.

Suzuki, who started the year scorching hot, had gone cold prior to the injury, slashing just .211/.279/.338 in the month of May. His patient approach, at times, looked almost too patient and on a nightly basis, borderline calls on the corners of the plate didn’t go his way, only exacerbating his struggles.

So, in and of itself, getting Suzuki back will be big for a Chicago team that’s focused on the future. This is year one of a five-year deal, so letting the 27-year-old work through these struggles and learn to counter the adjustments the league’s pitchers have made is key.

But it also raises questions over the future of Jason Heyward’s role on the team – something that’s been a near-constant storyline here early in 2022.

Over the span of his eight-year contract, the five-time Gold Glover has rarely lived up to expectations offensively. Really, the only time he looked like he somewhat figured it out at the plate came back during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Since then, though, he’s been a disaster at the plate.

A Cubs outfield mix that just won’t need Jason Heyward is close

This season, Heyward has made what Baseball Savant categorizes as ‘solid’ contact just 2.9 percent of the time – by far, a career-low. His 23.3 percent strikeout rate, while below league average, also marks a personal worst for the veteran outfielder. But stepping back from his individual performance, the bigger issue is the fact he’s taking away reps from guys who might actually be a part of the team’s long-term future.

Suzuki, obviously, would top such a list. Chicago added him last offseason with the hopes he can be an anchor in the outfield for years to come. But there’s no reason, even with Suzuki sidelined, Heyward should be taking away reps from guys like Clint Frazier or Rafael Ortega (although the latter seems to pretty clearly be a platoon guy).

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Some combination of Suzuki, Frazier, Ortega, rookie sensation Christopher Morel and Ian Happ should be the starting outfield mix every day. Despite getting on base at nearly a .400 clip over the last seven days, there’s no longer any justification for starting Heyward. The defense is no longer elite, the bat doesn’t play and the return of Suzuki should, at the very least, relegate him to the bench – if not end his time on the North Side altogether.

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