Hefty contract helps make Heyward a Chicago Cubs fixture in RF

Cubs position players fit pretty neatly into categories.

There are the players who can become free agents after the 2021 season - Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber.

There's a group of players who are under team control beyond 2021 - Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, David Bote and Nico Hoerner.

Then there's right fielder Jason Heyward, in a category unto himself. The Cubs added Heyward in 2016 with a hefty free-agent deal that still has three years to run. He's due to make $65 million over the next three seasons.

Anything's possible, but the chances of Heyward leaving the Cubs with that contract, while revenues have plummeted around the league, are close to zero. He might as well make himself at home in right field.

The good news is Heyward led the Cubs in batting average in 2020. The bad news is his average was a somewhat mundane .265. He ranked second on the team in OPS behind Ian Happ, and had the best WAR among position players.

Heyward has had a strange career. His lone all-star appearance happened when he was a 20-year-old rookie with the Atlanta Braves in 2010. His career high of 27 home runs happened in his third season, and he hit as many as 20 home runs just one other time, in 2019 when he had 21.

His best batting average was .293 during his lone season in St. Louis. But after starting his Cubs career with a disappointing performance in 2016, Heyward has leveled off and been a consistent producer. He's a long way from returning to the All-Star Game, but the Cubs certainly appreciate his leadership and defense.

The leadership was evident this season, when Heyward helped construct baseball's contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement. He was the Cubs' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

The respect from teammates was evident after Heyward sat out a game in Detroit on Aug. 26. That was the day the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play an NBA game to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.

Several baseball games were canceled over the course of two days, and the Cubs took some criticism for playing the game without Heyward. But manager David Ross, who played with Heyward in Atlanta, and teammates insisted the Cubs were simply following Heyward's lead.

"I don't think there's any doubt that we're all on the same page as J," Ross said at the time. "I know the outside narrative might be a little critical, but we know our heart and what's going on in here. We're trying to do right by J, we've always been trying to do what's right by him."

One question for Ross is whether to consider a platoon in right field. Last season, the left-handed hitting Heyward went .167 against left-handed pitchers and .297 vs. righties. Over his career, the splits are much closer, .273 against righties and .231 against lefties.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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