The situation between the Chicago Cubs and veteran outfielder Jason Heyward felt untenable.
A rebuilding Cubs organization wanting to look at other players did not fit with Heyward and his declining all-around production. What seemed inevitable became reality Monday when president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer announced the Cubs and Heyward will part ways after the season.
Hoyer had an open dialogue with Heyward about the Cubs’ plans, in which a continued union between the sides did not make sense. The Cubs also want to give Heyward the full offseason to find a new team.
“Given where we are as a group and where we’re going to likely be in the corner outfield next year, with Seiya (Suzuki) and Ian (Happ), we’re going to move in a different direction,” Hoyer said. “He struggled last year obviously, and we wanted to see how he bounced back from that and he had an excellent 2020 season. … Obviously he didn’t bounce back well from (2021).”
Heyward, 32, is owed $22 million in 2023, the final season of the eight-year, $184 million contract he signed with the Cubs on Dec. 15, 2015. The Cubs also must pay his $20 million signing bonus over four installments on April 1, 2024-27.
“He doesn’t like it but certainly understands where we are,” Hoyer said. “I think it’s been a frustrating last year and a half, with a lot of the guys that were a big part of why he signed here have been traded away. And so it kind of made sense for both of us and we’ve talked through it and we’re in a good place.”
Heyward was slashing .204/.278/.277 with a 57 OPS+ in 48 games before injuring his right knee in June. He finishes his Cubs career with 744 games played, a .245 batting average, .323 on-base percentage and .700 OPS.
Most memorably, Heyward delivered a speech during the rain delay in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, giving the Cubs a spark in extra innings to win the franchise’s first title in 108 years.
Heyward is not expected to return before the end of the season because of right knee inflammation. The Cubs’ 40-man roster is not full, so procedurally they can’t put Heyward, who has been out since June 27, on the 60-day injured list.
However, the time Heyward would need to build back up to be game-ready, combined with the Cubs’ outfield depth, has Hoyer and the organization wanting to reallocate at-bats to other players.
Hoyer described Heyward as a great professional and leader whom the Cubs wanted to have around the team this year. There were initial conversations about Heyward potentially having a role in the organization once his playing career is over.
Heyward’s investment in the Chicago community will outlast his time in a Cubs uniform. Among his local contributions, Heyward is helping build a baseball academy in the North Austin neighborhood.
“He certainly had his good moments here, but he had a lot of struggles as well,” Hoyer said, “and when he had those struggles, he never blamed anyone, never stopped working. He was always the guy that showed up in the best shape coming into every season. He was always a guy that was in the cages trying to get better.
“That’s probably how I’ll remember him is that he, from my perspective, never stopped working. He never stopped trying to earn his contract, never stopped trying to be better, and that says a lot.”