Release Heyward? Nope — make him part of next Cubs core


MESA, Ariz. — Not quite sure what getting ratioed on social media means and want a quick definition?

Give Jason Heyward a prominent place in your projected Cubs lineup — which is to say somewhere between 1 and 9 — and share it with Cubs Twitter.

Then watch the replies.

“Heyward should be released,” tweets @danwetter.

“Eat the damn cost and move on,” tweets @bradfordjamesj.

You get the idea.

Here’s a better idea: Make Heyward a lifetime Cub.

Wait, wait, wait — don’t tweet your thumbs out of joint just yet.

Nobody, including Heyward, will try to tell you he's delivered on the $184 million promise six years into his eight-year contract.

But nobody has meant more to the Cubs’ clubhouse in those six years, handled his business better on and off the field and been more respected among teammates.

“He’s a really good influence, a real pro. He does everything the right way,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said

Hoyer’s not about say he’s offering Heyward an extension beyond next year. In fact, he’d probably love to move as much of the $49 million left on the contract if he could get something of value back and if Heyward didn’t have full no-trade rights.

But given where the Cubs are in their transition to that “next great Cubs team” that Hoyer keeps talking about, Heyward could have outsized value in showing “the right way” to the next generation of Cubs position players.

That could be top prospect Brennen Davis as soon as this summer; Heyward's already taken the young center fielder under his wing.

And the likes of Owen Caissie, Ed Howard, Pete Crow-Armstrong and Kevin Alcantara over the next three and four years?

If you ask Heyward about his long-term future, you get answers like: “Right here, right now. That’s what I can control, and the rest will take care of itself.”

How long does he want to play? “As long as I can play.”

He said he’ll know when it’s time to stop playing and feels fortunate he’s been able to play as long as he has, to go through “ups and downs” in his career.

“And be on winning teams for the most part. I’ve done a lot of that,” he said. “Enough to appreciate what it’s like to have winning seasons and to feel what it’s like to lose. To see transitions happen. I’ve been a part of three of those now, in Atlanta, in St. Louis and then of course here.”

Which is the point.

Heyward and Willson Contreras are the last position players standing from the Cubs’ 2016 championship, and Contreras is on deck for the kind of trade-deadline treatment that core teammates Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant got last year.

If Heyward is the last one at some point, is there a better choice to try to keep in the room when the next group arrives?

Maybe it’s returning as a coach or special assistant in the organization if he doesn’t get the kind of deal he wants as a 34-year-old free agent after next year. Maybe he comes back on a smaller, short-term deal as a player?

Last year marked only the fourth time in Heyward’s 12-year big-league career that his team missed the playoffs. It was only his second losing season. And has anyone forgotten the rain-delay meeting in Cleveland on that historic night in November?

“He’s a guy who had a lot of [veteran] players that influenced him as a young player in Atlanta, and he kind of pays it back now,” Hoyer said, referring to, among others, his current manager, David Ross. “He’s really good with those [young] guys. Everyone always talks about Jason being such a pro, how he handles all his business off the field, how he prepares for games, how he prepares in the offseason. Everything he does is kind of first class in that regard.”

He also has sunk roots in Chicago, where he and his wife just has their first child, and where he has helped launch a 10-acre Jason Heyward Baseball Academy in the North Austin neighborhood, expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“There are a lot of exciting things to stick around for and always be a part of Chicago,” Heyward said.

Maybe even “the next great Cubs team”?

“We’ll see what happens,” Heyward said. “I know I have less years ahead of me than I do behind me, and I’m just grateful for that. …

“The rest will take care of itself.”

Bullpenning in the 21st century

No matter what Joe Maddon has up his sleeve next, what superstar bat-flipper Ronald Acuna Jr. does when he eventually returns from injury or what shortstop extraordinaire Tim Anderson does for Chicago baseball this year, nothing that happens in this country this year will come close to being as cool as what fans saw at Japan’s Sapporo Dome just over a week ago.

Tsuyoshi “Big Boss” Shinjo — the former Mets and Giants outfielder — showed up for his Nippon-Ham Fighters managerial debut in a freaking hovercraft. Shinjo stuck the landing, pulled off his helmet and after getting off the vehicle, tore off his jacket to reveal the home uni.

Bad. Ass.

There’s only one way for MLB to respond: Steal the idea and do it bigger.

As in a new generation of bullpen cars.

That’s right: bullpen hovercraft. One for each home bullpen in the majors.

Enter Sandman?

Enter Graveman. And Chapman. And Jansen, Melancon and Robertson and Hader and Kimbrel and Hendriks.

Do something like that, and nobody complains about pace of play again.

In fact, open the game by flying in the starter from the pen.

Enter Stroman.

Maybe Clark can drive.

Take the poll

The season starts Thursday against the Brewers with Cubs shortstop Andrelton Simmons behind, starter Wade Miley likely out until at least May and the Ricketts family inspiring hashtags and protests in London over their efforts to buy a Premier League team.

Nothing quite like the traditions of Opening Day, when the winter has thawed, hope springs eternal, and every fan can believe this is the year for their team, unless their team is tanking.

No Javy haters allowed

If you didn’t already like the first impressions made by A-ball prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong after seeing him play in a few games for the Cubs this spring — or because his mom is the actor who played the mom in Little Big League — here’s one more reason to like the kid:

His favorite player as a fan is the player he was traded for when the Cubs got him from the Mets in July: shortstop Javy Báez.

Well, not so much for that fact as the reason why:

“Because he’s unbelievably talented defensively,” Crow-Armstrong said. “And that guy came into the game and was just 100 percent himself. And didn’t change up, didn’t switch up ever. He was criticized for who he was more than for how he played … by a certain sect of haters.”

Crow-Armstrong is an outfielder, but if he brings anything close to the fielding ability or energy his idol does, he may be on a fast track to the majors — or at least a very entertaining one.

Baseball America already calls him the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs’ system.

“I always appreciated his style of play,” Crow-Armstrong said, “because it was loose, and it was aggressive, and it reminded me of just running around the back yard and going crazy sometimes.”

Contract Clause of the Week

Max Scherzer’s hamstring tightness isn’t going to stop him from having a productive first season as he starts that three-year, $130 million deal he signed in November — maybe even another Cy Young season.

But to make sure there’s language in his contract assuring the right to purchase four tickets each to any post-season home game?

A quick glance at contracts signed between Nov. 23 and March 24 — roughly the first month of free agent activity (minus the 99-day labor shutdown) — shows he’s the only one who did that.

Give him credit for a positive attitude.

But quick fact check: Dude plays for the Mets.


Still in Arizona for the last few days of spring training? Don’t leave town before treating yourself to the best breakfast burrito in the western United States, at any of the more than a dozen Filiberto’s locations in the Phoenix area.

Closest to the Cubs’ ballpark is at 1755 W. Main Street in  Mesa, less than two miles south on Dobson Road from Sloan Park, then left on Main (and almost immediately on the right).

Frosh Accommodations

If the AL’s Midwest division is Shortstop Central in baseball after newly signed Carlos Correa of the Twins joined Detroit’s Báez and the White Sox’ Anderson, is the NL Central the National League’s Rookie Central?

With all due respect to Giants catcher Joey “Embarcadero Express” Bart, Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki — the former Japanese All-Star and batting champ — is the Las Vegas favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year, according to the MGM Grand sports book.

And right behind Suzuki among the oddsmaker favorites are Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz and the Reds’ 100-mph starting pitcher, Hunter Greene.

Who says the race to the bottom in the tankiest division in baseball can’t provide drama in September?

Pop records

In 1961, Billy Williams set a Cubs rookie record with 25 home runs.

It took more than half a century for Kris Bryant to eventually break that record with 26 in 2015.

But then only six more years for Patrick Wisdom to come along and hit 28 as a rookie last year.

Care to see back-to-back record breakers?

Suzuki’s easy power to center in that spring game the other day suggested the record watch might start once again Thursday when he and the Cubs open at Wrigley Field.

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