Tag: Jason Heyward

How Good Can Cubs Offense Be If Jason Heyward Returns from Dead in 2017?

Last winter, the Chicago Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract. Less than 11 months later, they won their first World Series since the Teddy Roosevelt administration.

Here’s the rub: They did it as much in spite of Heyward as because of him.

Heyward played 142 games in his first season on the North Side and won a Gold Glove for his work in right field. His exploits in the batter’s box, however, defined abysmal.

He hit .230 and set career lows in on-base percentage (.306) and slugging percentage (.325). It’s not as if his stat line was undone by one cold stretch, either.

Heyward spread his mediocrity across the season, hitting above .250 in only one calendar month (June, when he hit .257) and posting an especially anemic .213/.270/.308 slash line after the All-Star break.

He did little to redeem himself in the postseason, going 5-for-48 with 13 strikeouts and starting the first three games of the World Series on the bench.

It was a disastrous season for the former All-Star. After getting paid like a superstar, Heyward hit like a scrub.

At the same time, he’s still just 27 years old. In 2015, he slashed .293/.359/.439 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases for the St. Louis Cardinals. On the strength of his bat and superlative glove work, Heyward ranked 13th in baseball with 14.6 WAR between 2013 and 2015, according to FanGraphs‘ measure. 

There’s a reason the Cubs gave him all that cash.

Now, the question becomes: Can Heyward bounce back? And if he does, how much more dangerous can this already potent Chicago lineup become?

Even though Heyward swung a soggy chicken strip, the Cubs ranked third in MLB in runs scored (808) and OPS (.772). 

After leading both leagues in strikeouts in 2015 with 1,518, they cut that number to 1,339 in 2016 and fell to ninth. 

The bats went cold for a worrisome stretch in the National League Championship Series, but stars such as first baseman Anthony Rizzo found their stroke in time to exorcise the billy goat. 

The Cubs will return with nearly the same lineup intact. Rizzo joins National League MVP Kris Bryant, shortstop Addison Russell, second baseman Javier Baez and veteran Ben Zobrist to form an enviable core.

The Cubs can also look forward to a full season from Kyle Schwarber, who was lost to a knee injury in early April and didn’t return to action until the Fall Classic, when he provided an inspirational boost at the plate.

Schwarber alone should move the offensive needle northward. He flashed big-time power in his 2015 rookie campaign, cracking 16 home runs in 69 games, and is entering his age-24 season.

That means the Cubs could probably endure another anemic year at the plate from Heyward. Even after trading Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for closer Wade Davis, they have a crowded outfield depth chart that features Schwarber, Zobrist, Albert Almora Jr., Matt Szczur and newly signed Jon Jay. 

Heyward‘s serving as a $28 million-and-change part-time defensive specialist strains credulity, though. The Cubs want more out of him.

It’s safe to assume Heyward wants more, too. He has an opt-out after 2018; a couple of strong seasons could equate to an even bigger payday. 

Cubs mental skills coordinator Darnell Howard showcased Heyward’s new, more upright swing in an Instagram post. Here’s a look at it next to Heyward‘s swing from last season, via Corey Freedman:

Will it yield better results? We won’t know until Heyward deploys it against big league pitching, but at least it shows he’s trying something.

It’s worth noting that Heyward has done this disappearing act before and rebounded. In 2011, after an All-Star rookie year, he hit just .227. The following season, he hiked his average to .269 and set career highs in home runs (27) and RBI (82).

The projection systems are bullish. Steamer foretells a .269/.348/.415 line with 14 home runs. The Cubs would take that with a smile.

Speaking of smiles, Heyward apparently kept his chin up through his 2016 struggles and famously delivered a rain-delay pep talk in Game 7 of the World Series. 

After the season, he earned optimistic praise from Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago:

He’s got a great attitude about everything. It’s just hard to make the kind of adjustments for some players in-season, because things are going so fast and you’re trying to compete.

But the offseason is a great opportunity to take a deep breath, slow things down, look at video, work with your coaches, really think about the swing. Think about the bat path and make some adjustments and develop some muscle memory, work on your feel and then take it into games.

We believe in Jason Heyward and his ability to tackle things head-on and make the necessary adjustments. And I think you’re going to see a much different offensive player next year.

None of this means anything until Heyward proves it between the lines. If you’re the glass-half-full type, however, there are reasons to swill the Kool-Aid.

Imagine a reinvigorated Heyward and healthy Schwarber mixed with a Cubs lineup that lost leadoff man Dexter Fowler but retained everyone else of significance. Factor in the possibility that young hitters such as Baez and Russell could make a leap forward.

Heck, even Bryant, who turns 25 in January, may be climbing toward his ceiling.

There’s a scenario where this offense goes from very good to scary great. More hitting from Heyward would be a key piece of that puzzle.

Chicago already won a title without much from him. Now, he has a chance to contribute to trophy No. 2.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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World Series Shift to Chicago Ushers in Historic Moment Bigger Than the Game

CHICAGO — The old girl is dressed to the nines. Wrigley Field, on deck to host her first World Series game Friday night since Oct. 10, 1945, is crackling with energy.

And when the Chicago Cubs take the field to face the Cleveland Indians in Game 3, this shrine of a ballpark, which has produced so many memorable afternoons and, later, evenings, will author a first: An African-American wearing a Cubs uniform will play in a World Series game in Wrigley Field.

The Cubs have not been here since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

Which means, well, gasp, yes.

It is amazing to even attempt to rationally wrap our minds around it. How we got here, how in the name of Martin Luther King Jr., or even Ernie Banks, this hasn’t happened before in Wrigley, is a testament to a century of futility for the Cubs.

“Ernie and I tried, but we didn’t get there,” Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams said.

Williams was standing in the visitors’ dugout at Cleveland’s Progressive Field as he spoke, beaming, looking at his beloved franchise in a real World Series, smiling at the thought of leadoff man Dexter Fowler, shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Carl Edwards Jr. becoming the first black men to play in a World Series wearing a Cubs uniform in any venue.

“The World Series itself is great, but when you look at all the things that have happened in baseball and then you look and see that four African-Americans are playing in a World Series for the Cubs for the first time in all those many years, it’s really something,” he continued.

“It gives you two thrills: To be here at the World Series, and to see those individuals play.”

That it comes at a time of more jagged racial tension in our country’s history, with the Black Lives Matter movement pushing for change and policemen under fire, might not make the debuts of these four Cubs any more significant. But it sure makes them more deeply felt.

“Just knowing Dex and J-Hey, and knowing C.J. [Edwards Jr.], we’ve always been the type of people to never settle for the everyday usual,” said Russell, who became the first African-American to collect a World Series RBI for the Cubs when he drew a bases-loaded walk to push across the fifth run in Chicago’s 5-1 Game 2 victory.

“I think that’s what has driven us. We didn’t have a choice to pick the ethnic background that we have, but it is what it is, and we are who we are, and we try to make the best of it that we can.

“Black Lives Matter is a huge movement. I think African-Americans need to be heard, for sure.”

Russell added that it is “nice on paper” to be able to say that he’s one of the first four African-Americans to play in a World Series for the Cubs. Fowler, who became the first black player to play for the Cubs in a Fall Classic when he led off Game 1 by taking a called third strike against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, said it was “awesome” to play the role of a trailblazer.

Heyward, the free agent who signed an eight-year, $184 million deal but has lost his starting spot because of a prolonged slump, downplayed the racial angle while acknowledging the larger moment.

“I haven’t thought about it other than we come in every day and prepare as players to do what we can to help our team win,” Heyward said. “We go out there on a daily basis, representing our family name, representing our organization, representing our city, and that’s the bottom line.

“We were born African-Americans, and there’s nothing we can control there. It’s been that way our whole lives, so it’s not surprising to say it’s a first.

“It’s unique and cool and, I guess, humbling to be a part of it for the first time. But we’re just here by chance, you know? Everything happens for a reason.”

What is not by chance, and what is instructive about this particular group of Cubs, is how they’ve ascended racial boundaries all summer long.

Most of the team—black, white, Latin—gathered in Fowler’s Cincinnati hotel room in April to celebrate Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter earlier that day.

Heyward, in a classy pay-it-forward move thanking a veteran who had taken him under his wing when they both were with the Atlanta Braves organization, has footed the bill for David Ross to be upgraded to a hotel suite on every Cubs road trip this year. That has continued into the postseason, Ross said, a gesture that is especially meaningful now because Ross’ wife, children and parents have been traveling in October, and the suite gives them all a place to stay and spread out.

Ross spoke at length of Heyward’s generosity Thursday.

To Heyward, being kind and generous is the way everybody should behave, no matter their ethnicity.

“We’re in a World Series,” Heyward, 27 and a native of Georgia, said. “I know I’m an African-American, so I go represent the best way I can as a person with my teammates and my friends and in terms of the organization because you know you’ve got a lot of different things from a lot of different people and a lot of people are watching. That’s the bottom line. Just treat people how you want to be treated and go from there.”

For reliever Edwards, 25 and a native of Prosperity, South Carolina, his place in Cubs history is humbling.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “We’ve seen Robinson come through, and I’m not saying we’re just like him, but…me and Dex and J-Hey and Addison—this is a great thing to have on our resume.”

Edwards is aware enough of the moment, both playing in his first World Series and understanding the social significance of it, that he plans to keep the cleats he wears whenever he makes his first appearance. In fact, he figures he’ll probably take a few other things home for his archives too because “this doesn’t happen to everybody.”

He’s thought about the timing of this moment and the social forces at work as a backdrop.

“Back home, of course, they put up the Black Lives Matter posts,” Edwards said. “But now everybody at home is putting up my picture on Facebook and social media because it’s something positive.

“Black Lives Matter—everybody is thinking that’s a negative. This is something positive that people can hang on to.”

He figures the kids back in his hometown can benefit from his experience because “if they see somebody from home doing it, it gives them more confidence.”

As Russell said: “It’s absolutely meaningful to us, to our families and, obviously, to our bloodline. I think our ethnicity, we wear it on our shoulders. Whenever you get around a group of people that come from so many different backgrounds, you have to be rooted a little bit, I think, whenever it comes to your ethnicity.”

And so as they step on to the Wrigley Field lawn and move just a bit deeper into Cubs lore, this is one of the most significant steps yet.

“Sports itself has a way of bringing a lot of injustices to the forefront,” Williams, 78, and a native of Whistler, Alabama said. “When you look on the field and you see African-Americans, you see whites, you see Italians, you see all races of people out on the baseball field, and that’s why it helps so much to bring about justice in this world.”

Recently, Williams said he watched the film 42, the biopic of Robinson’s life story. In it, there is a scene in Cincinnati in which Pee Wee Reese walks over and throws his arm around Robinson in a show of support as the fans showered him with racial taunts and other epithets.

It reminded him of his own Hall of Fame induction in 1987 and after, when, he said, “I used to go to the Hall of Fame, and I wanted to find Pee Wee Reese. And when I found him, I would put my arms around him just like he did to Jackie Robinson. And it gave me a great thrill.”

Yeah, as Williams said, it is great to see. Both the Cubs in the World Series and doing it in living, vivid color.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Will Jason Heyward Deal Come Back to Bite Chicago Cubs?

This season, there’s a euphoria that has consumed Chicago Cubs fans unlike anything the city’s North Side has seen for, say, a little over 100 years.

The lovable losers finally have their World Series contender. Heck, let’s just come right out and say it: This team is the favorite to win it all. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a summer-long party raging at Wrigley Field. The team hasn’t won anything yet except a whole bunch of regular-season games. But can you blame its fans for enjoying the ride?

As lifelong Cubs fans party like it’s 1908, one of the team’s newcomers has to be quietly thanking baseball’s higher power (his name in Chicago is team president of baseball operations Theo Epstein) more than anyone for the Cubs’ incredible success.

Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward signed an eight-year, $184 million contract this offseason, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. In his first year with the Cubs, Heyward has thus far posted an awful slash line of .235/.326/.325.

It’s inarguable that Heyward has been inept offensively. For those who want to try, the sky is blue and water is wet, in case that isn’t apparent either.

Chicago’s success this season has camouflaged Heyward’s failures.

The right fielder’s struggles haven’t been as prominent because the Cubs have been so good. Any discussion about a player’s success or failure is predicated on the idea that fans want the team to win.

The Cubs have done so this season, holding MLB’s best record at 51-27. Heyward playing better wouldn’t do much for the Cubs as far as the standings are concerned. And in the regular season, there’s no higher to go than baseball’s best record.

But the condensed nature of the playoffs—short series relative to a 162-game schedule—magnify a player’s struggles or successes. Come October, Heyward’s reeling bat in the No. 2 spot in the lineup could negatively impact a series for the Cubs.

And beyond this season, if he continues to struggle offensively, his contract could become an albatross.

Yes, Heyward has been the defensive stalwart the Cubs expected when they signed him to a long-term deal. He is third amongst outfielders with an ultimate zone rating of 10.3 and fourth with a defensive WAR of 7.6, according to FanGraphs.

But his total WAR, the ultimate calculation of a player’s value, is only 1.1 (per FanGraphs)—an extremely low number for someone making Heyward money. And he wouldn’t have gotten such a lucrative contract had he not hit .293/.359/.439 with the St. Louis Cardinals last season.

The fact is that Heyward may be known best for his defense. But his contract suggests an expectation that he help the team at the plate as well. He does, after all, hit second for the Cubs.

It’s not just the totality of his struggles, either.

Heyward seems to come up short in the biggest moments of a game. With runners on base, he is only hitting .205 and has just six extra-base hits on the year in those situations.

Thought by everyone in baseball to be the prize of last winter’s free-agent class of position players, Heyward has more strikeouts (27) than hits (25) with runners on base. And when runners are in scoring position, he is hitting only .227/.311/.318.

Come playoff time, starting rotations shrink. A team’s best pitchers play more. And opportunities to score runs are fewer. They can’t be squandered.

So Heyward’s struggles in those situations will only come into focus more.

Don’t expect his offensive woes to keep him out of the lineup. His defensive value will still make him better than any alternative on the Cubs bench when the playoffs come around. Runs saved defensively count just the same as runs generated on offense.

But Heyward could continue to play himself into a situation where Cubs manager Joe Maddon may have to consider a pinch hitter when the team finds itself down late in playoff games.

In fairness, Heyward’s June has been better than the first two months of the season. He is hitting .257/.336/.386. But those numbers are still below his career averages of .265/.351/.422.

He still could easily climb out of this season-long slump.

It’s a credit to Heyward that he hasn’t taken his offensive struggles into the outfield. His accomplishments as an outfielder certainly impacted the high demand for his services this offseason.

Analytics quantify a player’s defensive value more than ever. Heyward is a beneficiary.

But the size of his contract suggests that he cannot be a one-way player. Hitting in an important spot in the lineup, ahead of sluggers Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, it’s important Heyward gets on base.

He hasn’t done so enough this season.

As the Cubs continue to win, destined for October, Heyward’s struggles won’t be reflected in the standings. Discussion about them won’t even matter.

Come the playoffs, though, there are fewer games and fewer at-bats. Each play means exponentially more.

And if he continues to swing the bat poorly, Heyward could end up the party pooper on Chicago’s North Side.


Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Talk baseball with Seth by following him on Twitter @SethGruen.

All stats are accurate through the completion of Thursday’s games.

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Jason Heyward Injury: Updates on Cubs Star’s Ribs and Return

Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward suffered an injury to his right torso and abdominal region against the San Francisco Giants on Friday when Denard Span hit a ball that looked destined for extra bases in right-center field. Heyward spread out to make a diving catch, landed hard on his shoulder and then made contact with the wall, staying down and rolling in pain while clutching his side. 

It is uncertain exactly when Heyward will be ready to return to the field.

Continue for updates.

Latest on Heyward’s Playing Status 

Saturday, May 21

Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com reported Heyward will miss three to five days with a contusion to the ribs area, but he won’t hit the disabled list.

Heyward Comments on Injury, to Undergo Additional Testing

Saturday, May 21

“Uncomfortable, in pain, but relieved nothing is broken,” Heyward said, per Rogers. “MRI [on Saturday] to see what else is going on in there.”

Rogers noted Heyward had an ice wrap around his waist and said he was in pain but hoping for the best.

“My lower rib bone and hip bone hit each other,” Heyward said. “Got pushed up against the wall, and that was it.”

Maddon Comments on Heyward‘s Catch

Saturday, May 21

“That might have been the game right there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, per Rogers. “As crazy as it might sound, if that falls, that’s probably an inside-the-park home run, and all of a sudden they have a different vibe about them.”

Heyward Important to Cubs’ Long-Term Success

The Cubs pulled off one of the biggest coups of the offseason when they signed Heyward away from their biggest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. Chicago signed him to a team-record, eight-year, $184 million deal.

Adding the 26-year-old wasn’t the proverbial final piece of the puzzle, but to a certain extent, the move firmly cemented the Cubs’ transition from a relatively young, rebuilding team to one that aspires to end its historic World Series drought, which dates back to 1908.

Given his overall consistency since he entered MLB with the Atlanta Braves in 2010, signing Heyward, even for $180 million-plus, looked like a good deal for the Cubs. However, Heyward has struggled offensively at the start of this season. He’s hitting .225 with one home run, 14 runs batted in and a .282 slugging percentage.

Chicago is deep enough across the board that it could get lackluster production from its biggest investment and still be a title favorite. Losing Heyward altogether would be a different issue, though, especially with Kyle Schwarber out for the rest of the year.

When Heyward missed time earlier in the year with a wrist injuryMaddon turned to Jorge Soler to patrol left field, with Kris Bryant moving from third base to right field.

While Maddon may not move so many pieces around following Heyward‘s latest injury, Soler is the likeliest candidate to take over the vacant spot in the starting lineup.

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Jason Heyward Injury: Updates on Cubs Star’s Wrist and Return

Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward is out of Monday’s lineup because of a wrist injury. It is unclear when he’ll return. 

Continue for updates.

Heyward to Miss Multiple Games with Sore Wrist

Monday, May 2

Heyward will not start against the Pittsburgh Pirates as he receives treatment for his sore right wrist, per Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. The wrist has been an issue since the first week of the season, and Heyward will get “at least” two days off, reported Wittenmyer, who added he’ll be available off the bench. 

After being hit in the face by a Jonathon Niese pitch in 2013 as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Heyward has played in a majority of games for the past two seasons. However, this is hardly the start the Cubs wanted from Heyward in Chicago. 

The right fielder signed an eight-year, $184 million contract in the offseason with the Cubs after one season with the divisional rival St. Louis Cardinals. 

His numbers over the first six years of his career don’t suggest that Heyward is worth that kind of money. He had a career .268 batting average entering the 2016 season and hit more than 20 home runs just once.

Heyward has been struggling thus far in 2016, hitting a mere .211 with zero home runs and 13 RBI. 

While Heyward’s power numbers have lacked since he hit 27 home runs in 2012, he has proved he can find a way to get on base, averaging an on-base percentage of over .340 in the past three seasons. This year, it has slipped to .317. 

He also rounds out his game by providing a stellar glove in the outfield with Gold Glove awards in 2012 and 2014. 

Unfortunately for the Cubs, they are in the toughest division in baseball in the National League Central. The Cardinals and Pirates also have playoff aspirations and will be a constant in the playoff picture all season. The hope for Chicago fans is that Heyward can recovery quickly and return to the form that netted him such a lofty contract. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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Jason Heyward Comments on Allegedly Facing Racial Slurs at Busch Stadium

Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward was allegedly hit with racial slurs upon his return to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Busch Stadium on Monday, but he wasn’t personally aware of it.

Heyward said Tuesday he didn’t hear any racially charged speech directed at him but added, “Honestly, I wasn’t really listening,” per CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney.  

The 26-year-old also downplayed the alleged abuse from fans, saying, per Mooney, “I don’t feel like it’s a story. It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. Keep going and don’t really give it any attention.”

Kate Feldman of the New York Daily News initially reported Heyward was allegedly subjected to “N-word” hate speech during Monday’s game, which the Cubs won 5-0. ESPN broadcast the game, and Feldman’s report specified crowd mics picked up the slurs, not ESPN audio.

ESPN Director of Communications Ben Cafardo said on Twitter that ESPN has been reviewing the matter and hasn’t found any evidence of the alleged slurs directed at Heyward.

Cardinals officials also began investigating the situation on Tuesday but also didn’t find any evidence to back up the New York Daily News‘ claims, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold. Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler played alongside Heyward for Monday’s contest and, per Mooney, didn’t hear racial slurs.

Heyward was booed throughout upon his return to St. Louis, where he’d played in 2015 and shone with a slash line of .293/.359/.439 at the plate and picked up a third Gold Glove Award.

Instead of returning to the Cardinals, Heyward opted to flee for their National League Central rival in the Windy City on a massive contract worth $184 million over eight years, per Spotrac. That naturally drew the ire of St. Louis’ fanbase and culminated in a negative reception for Heyward on Monday.

Although the alleged racism is disturbing, Heyward didn’t seem fazed by it and chalked it up to harassment that comes with the territory of being in an opposing ballpark. Nevertheless, it is worth the Cardinals and ESPN doing their due diligence to discourage such conduct from occurring in the future.

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John Lackey Could Be the Ex-Cardinal St. Louis Misses Most in 2016

Two former St. Louis Cardinals returned to Busch Stadium in Chicago Cubs uniforms Monday. One of them made an indelible impression in the Cubbies‘ 5-0 win.

Jason Heyward won the crowd reaction competition, hands down. The Cardinals faithful greeted the outfielder—who ditched the Cards this winter for an eight-year, $184 million deal with Chicagowith a chorus of boos and some genuine vitriol, as Dan Katz of Barstool Sports (Chicago) captured:

“If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave,” Heyward said before the game, per ESPN’s Mark Saxon. “I’m kind of glad that people weren’t happy to see me leave.” 

In the end, though, it was veteran right-hander John Lackey who did the damage against his former employer. And, valuable as Heyward is, Lackey could be the player St. Louis misses the most.

Lackey downplayed the negative reaction to Heyward, per Benjamin Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Maybe he wished his boos were louder. Either way, he spoke loudly on the mound.

Yes, it’s just one game, but the stat disparity is striking.

Heyward went 0-for-4, lowering his average on the young season to .188.

Lackey, meanwhile, tossed seven shutout innings, scattering four hits and striking out 11. And he even outdid Heyward with the bat, as USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale noted:

Lackey, who turned 37 in October, enjoyed a renaissance season with St. Louis in 2015, posting a career-low 2.77 ERA in 218 innings.

The Cubs and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein—who was general manager of the Boston Red Sox during Lackey’s time in Beantown—then inked the playoff-tested hurler to a two-year, $32 million pact.

Lackey wobbled a bit in his first two starts with the Cubs, yielding eight earned runs and 14 hits in 12.2 innings. On Monday, though, he turned in a vintage performance, befuddling a Cardinals lineup that paced baseball with an .872 OPS.

Which brings us back to the question of whether St. Louis might ultimately miss Lackey more than Heyward.

Yes, Heyward is a three-time Gold Glove winner and all-around offensive stud who has racked up the fourth-most wins above replacement (11.3) among MLB outfielders over the last two seasons, per FanGraphs.

But the Cardinals offense, as mentioned, has been humming along in the early going, Monday’s shutout notwithstanding.

Catcher and franchise backbone Yadier Molina looks rejuvenated after a pair of offseason thumb surgeries. And while Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, Heyward‘s heirs apparent in the outfield, have gotten off to uneven starts, rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker has been an early revelation.

That’s not to say St. Louis wouldn’t gladly slot Heyward back into its outfield mix. Nor is it to suggest the Cardinals will remain an offensive juggernaut through the dog days of summer.

But right now, they sure could use Lackey.

Ace Adam Wainwright has been downright dreadful through three starts, coughing up 15 earned runs and 22 hits in 16.1 innings. Mike Leake, the rotation’s biggest offseason addition, owns a 5.71 ERA.

Lance Lynn, meanwhile, is lost for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

There’s talent to be found, with Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha rounding out the starting five. 

But in a division as competitive as the National League Central—with the Cubs loaded for bear and the Pittsburgh Pirates lurking—depth and experience matter.

Lackey boasts a 3.11 career ERA in 127.1 postseason innings. He’s pitched for a pair of World Series winners, the 2002 Los Angeles Angels and 2013 Red Sox.

And, as he displayed Monday, he’s still got it. The slider slides. The fastball is fast enough.

At least one jilted Cardinals fan burned Heyward‘s jersey when he pulled a Benedict Arnold and bolted for the North Side. Perhaps they should have been torching Lackey’s laundry instead.

In the end, Heyward will almost assuredly be the more impactful player in the WAR department. Assuming he stays healthy, a guy with exemplary defense, plus speed and double-digit home run pop is going to net more wins than all but the most ace-like hurlers. 

Lackey, though, might have filled a greater void for the Cards at a fraction of the price.

It’s too late for what-ifs now. Both men are Cubs, end of story. On Monday, one of them made that fact sting especially hard for St. Louis.


All statistics current as of April 18 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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Cubs CF Jason Heyward Swarmed by Bees in the Outfield, Game Gets Delayed

Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward is apparently despised by members of the bee community.

During his team’s spring training contest against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, the 26-year-old was harassed by a swarm of bees.

Heyward did all he could—run around, swat them with his glove, leap up on the fence—but nothing worked. According to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, Heyward endured substantial pain:

The game had to be delayed for a few minutes, as the horde eventually made its way into the stands.

In the bottom half of the inning, Heyward bombed a two-run dinger. Still, Seattle won, 12-9.

[MLB, Twitter, h/t CBS Sports]

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Stephen Piscotty-Randal Grichuk Duo Can Help Fill Cardinals’ Jason Heyward Void

Not sure if you heard, St. Louis Cardinals fans, but Jason Heyward skipped town. Worse still, he’s a Chicago Cub now.

OK, sorry. Our purpose here isn’t to rub salt in that particular, still-festering wound. Quite the contrary, actually—we come bearing glad tidings for the Redbird faithful. 

While the loss of Heyward was a no-doubt subtraction for the defending National League Central champs, they’ve got capable outfield replacements in Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.

That isn’t to say either Grichuk or Piscotty will be Heyward, whose 6.0 WAR was the 11th-best mark in the game last season, per FanGraphs

But the Piscotty/Grichuk duo has the potential to ease the sting of Heyward’s departure and to set the Cardinals up for yet another competitive season.

Let’s start with Grichuk, who came to St. Louis in the 2013 trade that sent David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels.

The 24-year-old former first-round pick saw time at all three outfield spots last season and posted seven defensive runs saved overall. And he acquitted himself admirably with the bat as well, hitting .276 with an .877 OPS and 17 home runs.

Yes, he struck out 110 times in 350 plate appearances. When he connected, however, good things frequently happened.

In fact, Grichuk was very much in the crowded, competitive NL Rookie of the Year conversation before an elbow injury sent him to the disabled list in August.

“He’s a ‘plus’ runner. He’s a ‘plus’ defender and thrower, and obviously we see the power,” manager Mike Matheny said of his young standout, per Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There’s a lot of things to be excited about with Randal.”

The power is especially noteworthy for a club that finished in the bottom third in runs scored and hit the sixth-fewest dingers in baseball. For all his upside, Heyward managed just 13 home runs. So it’s possible, even probable, that Grichuk will be an upgrade there.

Piscotty, also a rookie last season, was drafted by St. Louis with the 36th overall pick in 2012. He got hot after a July call-up, and by August 4, he was hitting .400 with a .964 OPS.

He inevitably cooled down but finished with a strong .305/.359/.494 slash line. He can play both corner outfield positions and also logged innings at first base, though he figures to be the Opening Day right fielder.

Piscotty doesn’t feature massive power, but that’s not what the Cards have asked of him, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlined in March 2014:

Despite a strapping 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, Piscotty has the swing of a high-average, doubles hitter, not a slugger. He said Thursday that the Cardinals have allowed him to maintain his approach as a “gap to gap” batter and not urged him to become “a guy able to hit 20 homers in a year but also strike out 120 times.”

“That’s not the player I want to be,” Piscotty said.

The Cardinals will gladly take more of the same from both Piscotty and Grichuk in 2016. And the projection systems are fairly optimistic. FanGraphs foretells 3.3 WAR for Piscotty and Steamer a less robust 1.1 WAR. Grichuk, meanwhile, is pegged for 3.1 WAR by FanGraphs and 1.6 WAR by Steamer. 

Split the difference, and that’s 2.2 WAR from Piscotty and 2.4 from Grichuk. Not world-beating totals, but enough to cushion the Heyward blow.

Not that WAR, or the projection systems, are the final word. Given what they flashed last season, it’s entirely possible Grichuk and Piscotty could blow past those expectations, particularly if Grichuk’s barking elbow is fully healed.

The Cardinals, after all, have a rich history of developing and nurturing talent. It’s a big reason why they’ve posted eight straight winning seasons and won an NL pennant and a World Series in that stretch.

It’s also why—even though they’ve failed to make any huge free-agent splashes this winter (sorry, Mike Leake)—they’re a safe bet to contend, even against the hungry, loaded Cubbies. 

After signing with Chicago, Heyward suggested part of the reason he left St. Louis was the team’s aging core.

“You have Yadier [Molina] who is going to be done in two years maybe,” Heyward said at his introductory Cubs press conference, per Hummel. “You have Matt Holliday who is probably going to be done soon.”

And he added, “I felt like if I was to look up and in three years see a completely different team, that would be difficult.”

His remarks provided bulletin-board fodder for the Cardinals and ticked off Matheny, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong.

Key lineup cogs like Molina and Holliday have been hampered by injuries, and it’s worth wondering how much longer they’ll be elite or even above-average MLB hitters. 

Heyward, still just 26 years old, is gone and he’s not coming back, except to be booed mercilessly in a Cubs uniform. The bridge, and the jersey, have been torched. From the ashes, however, new talent emerges. That’s the Cardinal way.

In other words: Time to step into the void, Grichuk and Piscotty—you’ve got next.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com.

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Jason Heyward’s St. Louis Comments Add Spice to Simmering Cardinals-Cubs Rivalry

The reignited rivalry between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs didn’t need any more heat. But Jason Heyward and Mike Matheny went ahead and added some spice anyway.

It began at Heyward’s introductory press conference on Dec. 15, when Chicago’s new star outfielder fired a few candid, pointed barbs at his old club, the Cardinals. Emphasis on the “old.”

“As everyone may have seen from the numbers that came out, I didn’t take the highest offer,” Heyward said, per CSNChicago.com’s Tony Andracki. “But for me, a winning attitude and culture and the fact that this was such a young group that I could grow myself with and be 26 years old.”

Andracki noted that Heyward accepted $184 million over eight years from the Cubs and reportedly spurned an offer “close to $200 million” from St. Louis.

“I felt like if I were to look up in three years and see it’s a completely different team, that would be kind of be different for me,” Heyward said of his decision to ditch the Cards, per Andracki.

And he got even more specific, listing catcher Yadier Molina, outfielder Matt Holliday and right-hander Adam Wainwright as Cardinals who are on the downslope.

We’ll parse the validity of Heyward’s assessment in a moment. First, the rebuttal, courtesy of the St. Louis skipper.

“I don’t think we have anything to apologize for in having a group like a Holliday, a Molina, a Wainwright,” Matheny said, according to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Those are the kinds of guys everybody wants on a club.”

“I don’t blame him,” Matheny added. “But I don’t like it.”

As trash-talking exchanges go, that’s pretty civil. Heyward went out of his way to express admiration for the Cardinals organization at his presser, and Matheny likewise said he’s “got a lot of respect for Jason as a person.”

But make no mistake: This will be bulletin-board fodder for the Cardinals as they defend their division title against the upstart, hard-charging Cubbies (not to mention the Pittsburgh Pirates).

This rivalry didn’t need momentum. The Cards claimed the NL Central with the best record in baseball last season before the Cubs bounced them in the National League Division Series.

If the first-ever postseason clash between these historic foes wasn’t enough to get the regional juices flowing, nothing will be.

Now, though, Heyward has spelled out the terms. The Cardinals are the aging champs with creaky knees and a faltering right hook. The Cubs, meanwhile, are the spry challengers gunning for the knockout.

Is that a fair summation?

Undeniably, the players Heyward cited—Molina, Holliday and Wainwright—will be central to the Cardinals’ success next season. Molina is 33 and had a second surgery on his right thumb after the first one, in October, “didn’t take,” per CBSSports.com’s David Brown

Holliday turns 36 in January and played only 73 games last year. And the 34-year-old Wainwright missed nearly all of 2015 with a busted Achilles tendon.

The Cubs’ core, by contrast, is composed of MLB newborns. Yes, the roster features veteransincluding left-hander Jon Lester and righty John Lackey, another free agent who jumped ship from St. Louis to Chicago this winter.

But four rookies—Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber—were key contributors to last year’s run. And others, such as 26-year-old slugger Anthony Rizzo and 29-year-old NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, are in the midst of their primes.

The Cubs’ window is just openingwide. Does that mean the Cardinals’ is closing?

Maybe not. Mixed in with the older pieces are outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, promising rookies in 2015 who are currently slotted into starting roles. Second baseman Kolten Wong, an NL Rookie of the Year finalist in 2014, is 25. And 24-year-old right-hander Carlos Martinez was an All-Star last season before a shoulder strain shut him down.

St. Louis’ farm system isn’t the game’s most loaded—Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked it No. 19—but there are some intriguing pieces in the pipeline, including 21-year-old right-hander Alex Reyes. 

Mostly, the Cardinals can stand on their reputation for developing talent, plugging holes as needed and perennially sitting at or near the top of the NL pecking order.

This franchise hasn’t suffered through a losing season since 2007, made it to the NLCS every year between 2011 and 2014 and won a pennant in 2013 and a World Series in 2011. Players have come and gone. The success has endured.

Call it good fortune, call it design, call it the Cardinal Way. But dismiss this team and its chances at your peril. 

While Heyward’s remarks aren’t likely to spawn a beanball blood feud, they’ll no doubt give St. Louis added motivation when it hosts the Cubs for the first time of the season on April 18.

After Heyward’s press conference and Matheny’s rebuttal, Cardinal Nation succinctly summed up the feelings of, well, Cardinal Nation:

The Cards took an expensive swing at Heyward and missed. Then he took a shot at them and they fired back.

“I think “Mo” [general manager John Mozeliak] did a great job of aggressively trying to push the envelope, the way this organization has done before, but still be responsible,” Matheny said, per Hummel. “But you have to have the other guy play along.”

Now, this rivalry has a few more months to simmer. Maybe we’ll even get a little more spice sprinkled on top. Then prepare to dig in, baseball fans—because this promises to be one tasty storyline.


All statistics current as of Dec. 20 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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