Heyward says ‘I'll rock that badge' of maligned contract


Jason Heyward heard the naysayers and critics almost from the moment he signed a Cubs-record $184-million, eight-year contract a few months before the Cubs opened the 2016 curse-busting season — the critics getting only louder as he failed to live up to the offensive end of the deal that sum promised.

Bad contract? Bust?

“Well, I feel like I’m a very fortunate person to be in a select group of players that earn bad contracts, because there’s a lot of bad contracts out there, if that’s how we’re looking at it, right?” he said Thursday as he met with the media for the first time since last month’s announcement that the Cubs will release him from the final year of the contract after the season.

“But to be able to show the value of myself as a person in probably one of the toughest times I’ve had on the the field and off the field in 2016, to still show I’m here for the team, to still play defense the way I play defense, run the bases and just to step in and step up at multiple times when I was needed to be who I am, to be Jason Heyward …

“We still got a ring, and it took every bit of that from me,” he said. “It took that group. There was no other group that was going to get that done. So that’s fine. I understand why people say ‘bad contract’ and this and that. But I know I also had my hand in a lot of winning baseball here on the North Side of Chicago.”

In fact, it is that value as a person, teammate, and behind-the-scenes role model that current and former teammates say contributed to an unprecedented run of six consecutive winning seasons for the Cubs, including the 2016 World Series championship, even as he struggled on the field.

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“We don’t win that championship without him,” said manager David Ross, a teammate on that 2016 team and in Atlanta before that.

That doesn’t mean the Cubs got what they paid for the last seven years.

Heyward produced a seven-year total of just 6.8 WAR, according to baseball-reference.com (8.5 according to fangraphs.com) after a 6.3 WAR single season with the Cardinals leading into free agency.

But if the biggest contract in franchise history is the bad contract even Heyward seems to acknowledge,  is it the worst in franchise history?

Probably not.

It arguably isn’t even the worst one Theo Epstein gave out during his nine years running the team.

That’s only in small part because of the famous Game 7 rain-delay meeting he called before the Cubs rallied to finish off their first championship in 108 years.

And never mind pitcher Edwin Jackson’s four-year, $52 million deal for a three-year stretch during which he was statistically the worst starting pitcher in the league before moving to the bullpen — eventually getting released halfway through his third season, with a minus-3.5 WAR to show for his Cubs career.

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Epstein’s worst free agent contract while running the Cubs was arguably the three-year, $38 million deal he gave Tyler Chatwood to augment the rotation in 2018 with the Cubs appearing to be at the height of their competitive window, coming off a third straight National League Championship Series — for the lack of any return (negative WAR as a Cubs starter) and the fact it forced the Cubs to trade for Cole Hamels and pay $20 million more to exercise his option for 2019.

With the Cubs’ payroll at the luxury tax threshold, that added insult and financial injury to the organization’s failure to develop pitching and effectively marked the rapid decline of that core’s competitive timeline.

Heyward’s deal cost a lot more, for more years, but he filled a huge defensive need unique to the other bidders at the time for a Cubs team with a collective sieve in the outfield and made others around him better even if he didn’t deliver for himself in the lineup.

“The contract is the contract,” Heyward said. “I feel like it’s very hard to outplay certain contracts, especially one like that one. But not even thinking that way. I just wanted to win.”

Heyward, who turned down 10-year, $200 million offers from the Cardinals and Nationals to sign with the Cubs, said there were times after joining the Cubs when he found himself getting “lost in what makes you stand out as a player” as he tried to fit in with a new coaching staff and team.

“I think that’s probably the toughest thing I had along with just wanting to win for this fan base,” he said.

That was the bottom line, he said. That effort.

“I can’t say that the contract was that much pressure,” he said. “Did it bring more attention? Sure. I guess there’s less people that can relate to you instantly, right? But I have so much respect for that and understanding as someone who was a baseball fan growing up, on the other side of that.

“So, no. It’s been an honor to wear that contract here,” Heyward added. “Any failure that we had

as an organization, I understand being a part of that goes with me, always and forever.

“But I’ll rock that badge."

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