What to do with Jason Heyward?


The Cubs paid $184 million in the offseason to sign Jason Heyward, who’s had plenty of time to count all of it in the first two games of the World Series.

Heyward hasn’t started either, and with good reason. He’s 2-for-30 in the postseason after hitting .230 and slugging .325 in the regular season. Nobody’s sure where the Mendoza Line is on OPS+, but it’s somewhere above Heyward’s utility infielder-like 70 (or 21 points worse than pitcher Jake Arrieta’s). And according to CSBsports.com’s R.J. Anderson, Heyward’s 72 wRC+ was last among the 21 rightfielders with enough at-bats.

Like the forecast of an economic downturn,  not everyone can explain it or fully understand it, but you know that last star is accurate and not good.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Heyward is “a big part of our future,” which may be true, but he’s apparently a very small part of the present, where the Cubs are even with the Indians after two games of the World Series.

The Heyward signing is the kind of miscalculation that in politics is fodder for opposition attack ads. And it goes to show that even the most brilliant and successful — and Cubs executive Theo Epstein is certainly that — make mistakes.

Fortunately for the Cubs, there’s plenty more of that Ricketts money where that $184 million came from.

Maddon said, “If we didn’t have other options, we probably wouldn’t do it (replace him),” but what he didn’t say was that the Cubs’ other options weren’t good ones.

In Game 1, Maddon tried Chris Coghlan, who batted .188 this season, and Coghlan struck out twice against Corey Kluber; in Game 2, Maddon tried Jorge Soler, who batted .224 against righties this year,  and Soler went 0-for-2 against drone master Trevor Bauer and a procession of relievers. In Game 3, Kyle Schwarber won’t be available to play the outfield, which means Coghlan or Soler or Heyward or Albert Almora will.

Who’s next? Billy Williams? Heyward can play the field and run the bases better, but Hall of Famer Williams, even at 78, might approach Heyward’s career-low .631 OPS.

For $184 million you’d like to write a right fielder’s name in the lineup boldly rather than sketch it in tentatively and with misgivings.

Maddon said, “There’s no time to get (Heyward) back in the groove,” and he’s right. If 162 games of the regular season and 10 more of the postseason don’t do it, it’s unlikely a handful of at-bats against even Josh Tomlin will help.

There’s no explaining what ails Heyward in his seventh season, at age 26, a period his stats should be ascending rather than descending. The Red Sox can always blame Pablo Sandoval’s decreasing production on his expanding waistline. With the Cubs, there’s always a tendency to blame the occult.

But with Heyward, there’s probably something much more human in play, and you wonder whether his struggles will strike a cautionary note before the next $200 million contract is signed this winter. 

Probably not.

  • Andrew Miller threw 46 pitches in Game 1, which made it unlikely for him to be available for more than a couple of batters in Game 2. There was one sure way not to tax him: lose big. 
  • The Indians’ current plan is to throw Kluber three times, twice on three days rest. It’s about the only one they have, given their rotation alternatives. But don’t assume, given Kluber’s Game 1, the Indians can count on Kluber winning Games 4 and 7 and need just one of the others. Recall how well Clayton Kershaw pitched in Game 2 of the NLCS and how poorly in Game 6. Or how Kershaw faltered on three days rest in Game 4 of the NLDS. Kluber was great in Game 1 and limited to 88 pitches. It doesn’t mean he will be the next time.
  • Dartmouth’s Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs in Game 3, making this the second straight year an Ivy Leaguer has started a World Series game. Princeton’s Chris Young started Game 4 for the Royals last year. Young pitched four innings and was pinch-hit for down 2-0, but the Royals scored three in the eighth to win 5-3.

 

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