The Rundown: In Defense of Jason Heyward, Joe Maddon Faces Cubs Today, Jon Lester Looks Much Sharper, Eloy Jiménez Feels at Home

Jason Heyward saves runs.

I know I am in the minority of Cubs fans who actually likes the right fielder, even with the portly contract, because I love the value he brings defensively. He absolutely robbed Mariners slugger Daniel Vogelbach of a home run yesterday.

When Heyward signed his contract with the Cubs in 2016, it only felt a little exorbitant. Then owners started squeezing salaries across the board and his contract felt more than a little bloated. In fact, other than when Yu Darvish signed with the Cubs for $126 million in 2018, nine-figure contracts seemed to be on the verge of extinction. There weren’t any others handed out until owners decided to break the bank with Manny Machado, Patrick Corbin, and Bryce Harper last winter.

The question remains, is Heyward worth the $23 million AAV he costs the Cubs? The answer is, it’s incredibly difficult to gauge based on salary vs. statistics alone. I know, what a cop-out. If you consider that the Braves have Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. locked up for a combined total of 19 years at $170 million, it looks to some like Heyward is robbing Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

A more intelligent answer is that the agents for the two Atlanta superstars probably got a little spooked that owners were squeezing salaries in 2017 and 2018 and jumped at what seemed the best offer available. Both the Braves and the White Sox (Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert) have done a great job of locking up their younger players with long-term extensions, though I imagine at some point each of those players may wish they’d ridden it out through arbitration and free agency. They’ve potentially left hundreds of millions on the table.

Heyward is never going to be the prototypical offense-first right fielder in the mold of Sammy Sosa or Aaron Judge, but he saves a lot of runs and is worth about three wins above replacement annually. I’m not one who believes in equating WAR to salary, but if one win is really worth $9-10 million, Heyward still provides positive value. On top of that, he provides invaluable leadership.

“I would say there’s a new-found experience for the group as far as getting a taste of what it’s like to not get what you want to get as far as not getting into October,” Heyward said at the start of spring training. “We have a great roster, a great group of guys. I think I’m excited about seeing what we can do as far as setting the tone for the new people coming along and form a new identity under each other.”

The right fielder never shies away from answering questions about himself or his teammates, he’s open and transparent almost to a fault, and never talks in obligatory cliches or indecipherable phrases.

We all have fantastic memories of that night in November 2016 when the Cubs finally won a World Series. Perhaps none of those memories would exist without the presence of Heyward. At least give the man his due for that.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

I wonder if Papa Joe will commemorate today’s game with an outside-the-box idiom or passive aggressive comment about Epstein.

MLB Spring Training Notes

The Yankees are unhappy that rules preventing the use of in-game television feeds may be instituted this season because the Astros cheated.

Blue Jays closer Ken Giles says he is willing to give back the World Series ring he won with Houston in 2017.

Mets starter Marcus Stroman and Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner believe David Price got a bad rap while playing in Boston.

Robotic umpires will change the way catchers are evaluated in the future.

The A’s look like legitimate contenders in the AL West.

Extra Innings

It would be nice if Epstein and Hoyer can lock up a few of their guys before the start of the season.

They Said It

  • “Once I get on the field, I’m playing baseball. That helps me stay sane when there are so many other things going on off the field.” – Jason Heyward
  • “It makes you jealous at times with what [Darvish] is able to do. If we get him going like we had him in the second half last year, that’s obviously only going to help us. Hopefully he can do that from day one, and we can kind of jump on his back.’’ – Jon Lester
  • Being a free agent, I had a couple calls and I talked to Tommy Hottovy and Craig Breslow and that was the first thing we talked about. Some other places I was at, they had the analytics, but how do I translate this to the field? The first thing they brought up was getting me in the lab and figuring out what I can do.”Dan Winkler

Monday Walk Up Song

This month, I am going to post songs/videos that haven’t aged very well. Some, like today’s choice, were basically career-ending for the performers.

Rock Me Tonight by Billy Squier

  • What went wrong? Poor wardrobe choices and insufferable dance moves by a hard rocker whose main demographic was a deviant, guitar-hungry subset of teenage boys, at a time when the word tolerance barely existed.
  • How does it play today? The video is just as ridiculous today as it was when it debuted in 1984.
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