Cubs' Heyward takes calls for release with 'grain of salt' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Is this the last game Jason Heyward plays for the Cubs? Is tomorrow his last day on the roster?
Or next week? Next month? Sometime next year — the final year of that eight-year megadeal he signed 11 months before the most celebrated rain delay in major league history.
It’s all anyone on Cubs Twitter asks when his name shows up in another lineup or when another outfielder is moved off the roster (at least the non-profane questions).
For Heyward’s part, “I don’t wonder,” he told NBC Sports Chicago. “Because when it happens, it’ll happen, whatever it is. Whether it’s my last day alive, whether it’s my last day being a part of this team, or any team, whether it’s my last day playing; whenever that gets here, that’ll get here.
“I'm here. Being where my feet are.”
Heyward knows as well as anyone on Twitter he’s the elephant in the lineup.
Team president Jed Hoyer knows better than Twitter that what’s left of the right fielder’s $184 million contract is the elephant on the roster.
In short, he is the most polarizing player on the roster by a wide margin for an angry fan base.
And Heyward knows what they’re saying. Well, he knows what he’s told they’re saying.
“I don’t care,” he said with the same matter-of-fact tone he addresses most subjects. “I’m just saying I don’t personally go flip through [Twitter].”
As for what he actually hears, what people at the ballpark or those around town who recognize him are saying, “Thank you. They say, ‘Thank you.’ “
The impassioned rallying of the team during that famous rain-delay meeting? The championship? The Gold Glove play in the outfield and documented clubhouse influence during that run of winning seasons and playoff appearances unprecedented in franchise history?
What people think of him now as the fortunes of the team have gone the way of the Dodo — not to mention the way of the trade-purged Kris Bryant, Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo?
“I can’t control any of that. I can never control that,” Heyward said. “From my first day playing [in the big leagues] at 20 years old or playing right now at 32 years old, I understand I can’t control that.
“It’s people in leadership that make moves, that have to make decisions, that have to write the checks, that have to cut people, whatever: Those are the ones that are leading the charge of what people think.”
Sunk costs, 40-man roster issues, contract status, injuries (IL and non-IL) — most people don’t know everything that goes into a lot of the game’s business decisions, he said.
“So I take it with a grain of salt,” he said.
“They have every right and reason to be in the moment and say, ‘Oh, today this was your result.’ That’s what they know, the things that they do understand. So cool,” Heyward said.
Hoyer, the leadership guy making decisions, reiterated Wednesday morning on the Kap & J. Hood show on ESPN 1000 what he told reporters in New York when Heyward was back in the lineup after outfielder Clint Frazier was designated for assignment.
Yes, it’s a sunk cost, he agreed. Yes, Heyward has struggled all year (.205 with one homer and a .558 OPS). Yes, the Cubs need to play younger players to see what they have for the longer-term, competitive future. And, yes, with Ian Happ locked down in left and rookie Chris Morel earning a daily job in centerfield that leaves right.
“We’ve been pretty banged up, and as a result, he’s been playing a lot,” Hoyer said in obvious reference to $85-million newcomer Seiya Suzuki, who’s been sidelined for a month with a finger injury.
But also this: “I will say for Jason, this guy could not be more important for developing our young players, mentoring our guys,” Hoyer said, echoing the sentiment, almost word for word from that day in New York. “It’s really rare to see players that are really willing and that take the time to mentor those guys. There is value in that.”
At the very least that probably means Heyward goes back to a platoon role (at best) when Suzuki returns.
Whether that change in status is more dramatic at that point — or how much later — is what fans seem to be clamoring about the most as the team sinks deeper into a second straight losing season, toward a second straight trade deadline selloff, with no end in sight.
"I'm here. I'm present," Heyward said.
So he plays when his manager and former teammate — his friend — David Ross puts him in the lineup, 5-for-36 production and all (.351 OPS) in his last 12 games.
And plays without the need to say much between them.
“There’s so much history and just understanding of how we operate, Rossy and I That part’s pretty easy,” Heyward said.
“We take it day by day. That’s all we’ve got. Especially in a situation like this one.”
A situation where Heyward has reached a point in which the Cubs part of a career that already was below average offensively has bottomed out since the start of last season.
It makes him the easy and obvious target for fans that already are angry at what they’re getting for the cost of going to a game (or for the cost of the crappy in-house TV network), now five years, seven months and three weeks removed from the rain delay.
“You want to see results," he said. "You want to win. You want to compete. Those are all reasons we work hard and show up, every single day.
“I’m here. I’m having fun. I’m not taking it for granted, playing the game, enjoying what I can with the people around me.”