The Chicago Cubs are planning to release outfielder Jason Heyward following this season, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told reporters Monday. Heyward is currently on the injured list with knee inflammation and will not play again this year. The Cubs will then release him after the season. Heyward is owed $22 million in 2023, the final year of his eight-year, $184 million contract.
"Given where we are as an organization, trying to give guys like ((Nelson) Velázquez and (Christopher) Morel and give guys like that playing time -- and there will be more guys like that we want to give playing time -- we felt like it was the right thing to do given where we are as an organization," Hoyer told reporters (video). "I've had a pretty open dialogue with him about this. Jason -- he's a fantastic human being. He doesn't like it but he certainly understands where we are."
Heyward, who turns 33 later this week, did not produce as expected throughout his tenure with the Cubs, with the 60-game 2020 season his only year as an above-average hitter. But Heyward was an important part of the 2016 World Series team, most notably delivering a clubhouse speech during the 10th-inning rain delay in Game 7 to help spur the team to victory.
"I walk off and I see them all gathering in that little room down below there, and they had a meeting,". "I love when players have meetings, I hate when I do. So they had their meeting and the big part of it was, we don't quit. We don't quit."
In parts of seven seasons with the Cubs, Heyward authored a .245/.323/.377 batting line with 62 homers in nearly 3,000 plate appearances. Adjusted for ballpark, Heyward was 15 percent worse than a league average hitter during his time in Chicago. His splendid defense allowed him to post 8.9 WAR, so he did contribute with his glove.
Once released, any team could sign Heyward for the $740,000 minimum salary in 2023. The Cubs will owe him the $22 million left on his contract minus the $740,000 paid by the team that signs him, if any. Hoyer confirmed Heyward still wants to play, and given how affordable he will be, he very well might find a new team for next year.
It was widely believed the Cubs would move on from Heyward after the season, and announcing it now rips off the bandage, so to speak. There's no mystery now. Also, the Cubs can give Heyward, a 2016 champion, a nice little farewell ceremony at some point in September. Doing so would have been awkward otherwise.
Heyward authored a .204/.278/.277 batting line with one home run in 151 plate appearances this season. He has not played since June 24 due to knee inflammation. Heyward started only 47 of 71 games while on the active roster.
Willson Contreras and Kyle Hendricks are the only other 2016 Cubs players still with the team. Contreras will be a free agent after this season. Hendricks is signed through 2023 with a club option for 2024.
At 43-64, the Cubs have the fourth worst record in baseball. They have made the postseason once since 2018 and that was the shortened pandemic season.