Rozner: Why the Cubs should consider trading Jason Heyward
It became known immediately as "The Heyward Game."
On Sept. 4, 2016, Jason Heyward drove in all 3 runs in a 3-2 Cubs victory over the Giants.
Generally speaking, at least in previous decades, getting tagged as owning a game is such fashion usually involved some serious heroics.
Multiple home runs late in a game against a Hall of Fame pitcher is one performance that comes to mind.
But Heyward struggled so mightily in 2016 that he was gifted this particular game, apparently in hopes that it might boost his sagging morale.
It did not.
The game, by the way, consisted of 3 RBI singles. There was a flare to left in the fourth, a chopper up the middle in the ninth that tied the game with the Giants and sent it to extras, and a bloop to left that barely cleared the shortstop and fell in front of the center fielder to win the game in the 13th.
Three soft singles became "The Heyward Game."
That -- along with the very famous rain-delay speech in Game 7 of the World Series -- has been among the highlights of Heyward's time in Chicago.
It's the subject no one really wants to broach around Wrigley Field because everyone adores Heyward. He's a great teammate, spectacular fielder and one of the best people in the organization.
But the reality is his contract, so far, has been a nightmare.
He took home $15 million in 2016, $21.5 million in 2017 and will get $21.5 million in 2018. There's $20 million in 2019, $21 million in 2020-21, and $22 million in 2022-23.
There are also $5 million signing bonuses paid on April 1 in four years beginning in 2024.
So it would only make sense if the Cubs have been exploring deals to trade Heyward's bad contract for another team's bad contract -- or multiple bad contracts.
Cubs management would be negligent if those guys weren't out shopping for pitching and looking for expensive starters and relievers who might bounce back off bad seasons.
This is something they must do.
As for the rumors of a discussion with the Giants about Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon, those were quickly dismissed, but don't doubt that the Cubs are thinking of ways to get rid of that contract and open up space in the outfield for their many young players who need at-bats.
But keep in mind that Heyward seems very happy in Chicago and he has full no-trade protection through the 2018 season. After that, he can block deals to 12 teams in 2019-20. At the end of 2020, Heyward will be a 10-and-5 player and again will have full no-trade protection.
It means the Cubs are limited in what they might be able to try as long as Heyward wants to be here, and in the meantime will continue to try to fix their Gold Glove right fielder's approach at the plate.
"By definition he can improve more than marginally from where he is right now because he's done it in the past," Cubs president Theo Epstein said when he met the media after the Cubs were eliminated by the Dodgers. "He was a 6-win player four out of six years. That's what we want to get him back to.
"In order to do that, he has to continue to play great defense, continue to run the bases really well, and we have the added benefit of everything he does in the clubhouse with his leadership and professionalism.
"But to be that type of player again there needs to be some improvement with the bat. That means driving the ball more consistently to all fields, getting on base more and being more of an extra-base threat.
"He's done it before so you're never going to give up that it can come back. This is a guy with a ton of pride and he understands that he has contributed to a lot of wins and a World Series title and another successful season.
"But there's more he can do and wants to do. I have no doubt he'll put himself in a situation this winter to try to get better. He's a talented player and there's some room for improvement offensively."
It doesn't mean the Cubs won't explore their options.
They simply have to.
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