Jason Heyward plans to play in ‘23 — then return to Cubs?


Jason Heyward doesn’t know where he’ll be next year but plans to keep playing if he can find an offer and a fit after the Cubs release him in the next few weeks with a year left on his $184 million contract.

But will that bittersweet parting with his home of seven years sound more like “goodbye” or “see you later”?

Team president Jed Hoyer said last month when he announced the Cubs’ decision on Heyward that the door was open for a possible reunion once the man who called the most famous rain-delay meeting in history is done playing.

Heyward on Thursday sounded like he might be interested.

“Maybe it’s on the partial ownership side,” he said, thinking out loud on what a future role might look like. “But I want to bridge that gap.”

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Heyward, who met with media for the first time since Hoyer’s announcement, talked about a liaison-type role between front office theories/planning and in-the-trenches, clubhouse reality.

“I think there are a lot of things lost in translation from clubhouse to front office,” he said. “Having more perspectives like mine up above this, to be able to look down and say, ‘What can I really give to this group of guys’? Even if it’s just keeping it real with them and letting them know that this what it’s like here. …

“I think I can bridge that gap as far as like helping everyone be on the same page. So we’ll see what happens with that. And I guess that can kind of segue me into just thanking the Ricketts family, thanking Tom, Laura, for everything they’ve done for my family and I.”

But for now, he hopes to play next year after finishing the entire second half of the season on the injured list recuperating from a knee injury he had played through (while also giving the Cubs a chance to play younger players over the final months of the season).

“That’s the plan,” he said of 2023. “But as we’re sitting here today, plans don’t always go as you hope. We’ll see what options are presented, because it’s a different playing field now as far as who’s interested. I also have to be realistic about the roles that [other teams] think I should be in. Is that a minor-league invite? Is that a possibility of saying we want you on this team, that we’re here to win and compete, and we understand what you bring in a winning environment?”

With the World Baseball Classic scheduled next spring, it figures to open up a lot of early March playing time for teams that have players participating, which might make a minor-league invitation more palatable.

Because the Cubs are responsible for Heyward’s $24.5 million salary next year, any team signing him next year would be responsible for paying him only the required major-league minimum of $720,000 (reducing the Cubs’ cost by that much).

That could make him a high-value acquisition for a young team on the brink of a possible deep October run, such   s the Orioles or Mariners, or even a team like the Phillies — one of the few teams left that value intangibles such as Heyward’s well-documented clubhouse influence (not to mention the Phillies’ need for better outfield play).

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Heyward was on playoff teams for three different franchises seven of his first nine seasons in the majors (and eight of his first 11).

Offensively, he never reached the level of his franchise-record eight-year, $184 million contract, declining to career-worst performances each of the past two years — .214 with a .627 OPS in 104 games last year and .204 (.556) in 48 this year.

Heyward, 33, said he “absolutely” can still bring that high-level, five-Gold-Gloves performance to a team.

“Most definitely,” he said. “I think that’s part of what goes into my decision that I have to weigh as far as what teams are interested.”

Part of that is preparing for a healthy season in 2023, he said.

“I know I have a lot to offer still for a winning baseball team, a team that wants to go far in the postseason,” he said.

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