Jason Heyward reflects on The Decision, Cubs Way and joining baseball’s version of Golden State Warriors

Jason Heyward reflects on The Decision, Cubs Way and joining baseball’s version of Golden State Warriors

After Kevin Durant bolted from the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer, he talked about the culture and chemistry surrounding the Golden State Warriors, sounding exactly like Jason Heyward’s explanation for making The Decision.

Heyward never made it personal while leaving the St. Louis Cardinals, even if Adam Wainwright and some of The Best Fans in Baseball took it that way. In the end, the Cardinals felt like no matter what they offered, they could never match the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win a World Series at Wrigley Field.  

Major League Baseball isn’t the NBA, where a handful of the best players in the world can create Super-Teams and entirely shift the league’s balance of power and course of history. But in terms of getting treated like rock stars, reaching a tipping point in the National League Central and creating an environment that values freedom and self-expression, Joe Maddon’s Cubs have a Golden State of mind, with Warriors coach Steve Kerr even meeting the manager before a game in San Diego in late August.   

Of course, that’s how a 103-win Cubs team will be remembered if they run into a LeBron James, the way the record-setting Warriors won 73 games in the regular season before losing a Game 7 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. (Though Golden State’s title drought only goes all the way back to the 2015 NBA Finals.)

But before Wrigleyville turns into some combination of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras and Times Square on New Year’s Eve – Tuesday became the simulated-game calm before the storm – Heyward reflected on his first season with baseball’s traveling circus.  

“Yeah,” Heyward said, he felt the weight of that eight-year, $184 million contract. “But to be honest, I can look myself in the mirror and say: There’s the pressure of being a first-rounder. There’s pressure from playing at home in front of your home crowd, all that stuff. There’s pressure from getting traded at 25 years old and going to play for a different team. It’s just a different pressure. 

“At the end of the day – (whatever your contract may be) – there’s always going to be pressure from the fans. But that’s fun. That’s what we want. Nobody expects more out of yourself than you, so that’s a good pressure to have. If people aren’t expecting you to do well, then you don’t feel like you’re doing your job.”

In Heyward’s mind, the Cubs have lived up to all of his expectations – even as he’s dramatically underperformed offensively – and none of this should be interpreted as a shot at The Cardinal Way.    

Heyward is a class act who contacted traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani sometime between his welcome-to-Chicago press conference at Spiaggia Restaurant in December and Cubs Convention in January, asking to pay for hotel-suite upgrades on the road for veteran catcher David Ross and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske this season, thanking them for helping him when he broke into the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves. 
Heyward – the son of two Dartmouth-educated parents – wanted to think big picture with his career and take advantage of the rare opportunity to be a 26-year-old free agent. 

“It’s been a blast,” Heyward said. “It’s been awesome to show up for work every day, to be around the people that I get to work (with) – teammates, coaching staff, the people that work at the stadium, the people that take care of us and make sure we have everything we need, the vendors and the people that run the concessions. Everybody takes pride in working at Wrigley Field.

“And then the fans, they feel like they’re a part of the family. It’s really fun, man. It’s a unique experience. It’s well-thought-out, well-planned.

“We don’t take it for granted.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Given their young core and deep lineup, the Cubs might be the only team that could have afforded Heyward’s career-low .631 OPS, which ranked third-worst among all qualified big-league hitters. But the bleacher bums got an up-close view of Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field, Maddon loves the instincts and aggressiveness while running the bases and teammates rave about his sense of calm and professionalism in the clubhouse. 

“I get to be myself,” Heyward said, a big selling point for a player compared to Hank Aaron as a rookie and once expected to put up huge power numbers. “And then do what I need to do to get ready to play every day. 

“There’s not a lot of hands-on (stuff) in the sense of you need to be one certain kind of way. The bottom line has been: Let’s make sure we’re doing the fundamental things right (and) approaching every day as if you’re trying to get the best out of yourself.

“After that, don’t try to do too much. Let the game come to you. Take what you get out of it – and 100 percent have fun with it – and just push each other to be the best we can. 

“At the end of the year, you look up and then you see what you have from it. Don’t really put too much stock into one day or the past or get ahead of yourself.”

While the 86-win Cardinals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, Heyward will be playing in the postseason for the fifth time in seven years when the Cubs face the wild-card winner – either the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants – on Friday night at Wrigley Field. 

If Heyward didn’t necessarily see Kris Bryant becoming a runaway MVP winner this year – or Addison Russell developing into an All-Star shortstop at the age of 22 or Kyle Hendricks emerging as a Cy Young Award contender – then he understood the Cubs should be good for a long time.
“It’s a pretty good group of coachable guys,” Heyward said. “That, to me, is the most impressive thing. Because you can have all the talent in the world – and the numbers can be whatever they are at the end of the year – but it’s really impressive to see them always wanting to take their game to the next level and not get complacent.”

When Maddon looks out from the dugout, he finds it reassuring to see Heyward standing in right field, and his all-around skills should help the Cubs win low-scoring, one-run games in October. But one big hit and no one will remember that Heyward only had seven home runs during the regular season.

“Everything matched up – the fan base, the city, the opportunity for me grow into myself as a baseball player even more,” Heyward said. “Where (else) are you going to have the ability (to) play with a group (that you can) grow with? 

“I’ve said that many times before, but I feel like that’s an important thing when you’re talking about playing with a team that’s serious about contending every year – and serious about trying to win a World Series every year. That’s the bottom line.”

There's more change coming for the Cubs this offseason, but in what form?

There's more change coming for the Cubs this offseason, but in what form?

David Kaplan said it best on the most recent CubsTalk Podcast:

"I think it's gonna be the most impactful offseason since Theo and Jed have been here."

He's not wrong, which is saying something given the Cubs have had plenty of impactful offseasons in the tenure of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. This is a group that added Joe Maddon and Jon Lester ahead of the 2015 season and then the next winter, added Jason Heyward and surprised everybody by bringing back Dexter Fowler a couple days into 2016 spring training.

Anytime a team sets World Series or bust expectations and instead is going home just one day into the MLB postseason, change is coming. That may be especially true with HOW the Cubs got knocked out — leading the division and boasting the best record in the National League from the All-Star Break all the way through Game 162...yet they didn't even make it to the NLDS.

It's impossible to predict exactly what changes will be coming for the Cubs because as of this writing, three teams still remain and some of the winter's biggest names (Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel) have yet to begin their offseason. There's still so much that can change even before free agency opens.

So if you're looking for a bunch of predictions or projections about what is going to happen in the Cubs world this winter, you're in the wrong spot. But here's where change MAY take place over the next couple months:

Coaching staff

We'll start with the area that will probably have a resolution the soonest. Teams typically prefer to have their coaching staff settled as early as possible into the offseason so they can fill out the roster from there. An added bonus is the new coaches can start reaching out to players on the roster earlier in the offseason if they choose to, as well.

With the Cubs coaching staff, there very well may be more shakeup coming this fall even after Chili Davis was let go last week. All we know for certain is Anthony Iapoce will be the team's new hitting coach in 2019 on Joe Maddon's staff. Beyond that, the Cubs have not publicly confirmed that Jim Hickey or any the other coaches will 100 percent be back next spring. 


There's a potential the Cubs' 2019 Opening Day lineup will be far different from not only the 2018 Opening Day lineup, but also even the NL Wild-Card lineup. 

Like their fans, the Cubs were unhappy with the way the offense performed in the second half, particularly in three of the final four games (the penultimate regular season contest, Game 163 and the Wild-Card game). 

So much has been made of the Cubs' young core of position players over the last few years, but the evaluation has to change after a bunch of the members of "The Core" took steps back in 2018 (Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr.). 

Kyle Schwarber enjoyed a bit of a resurgent season as he cut down on strikeouts, walked more and boosted his batting average while improving as a defender, but also saw a dip in power and still hasn't taken that big step forward toward one of the league's most feared run producers.

Kris Bryant also obviously experienced a dip in offensive production, but so much of that can be tied into the left shoulder injury that clearly affected his swing.

After a disappointing end to the season that highlighted the offensive shortcomings, Epstein was blatantly honest about how the evaluation of these players has to evolve:

"It has to be more about production than talent going forward," Epstein said. "And that includes our own assessments. Beyond that, it's also trying to understand why we're not where we should be with some individual players. In other words: If you look back, players who do certain things at 22 and 23 should be progressing into a better, more productive phase of their career at 24, 25 and 26.

"I'm the first one to talk about how development and progress — those aren't linear things all the time. There are a lot of ups and downs. But I think there's a trend where Javy took the big step forward, but there are other guys who went the opposite direction or have been trending the opposite direction a little bit. We have to get to the bottom of that.

"It's our job not just to assemble a talented group, but unearth that talent and have it manifest on the field. Because that's ultimately all that matters. It's an assessment on those two fronts. The talent that we have and who's going to be productive, who's not or where we can find that production. And then also understand the environment and are we doing everything that we can in creating just the right situation to get the most out of these guys."

And therein lies a perfect transition into the next category...

Potential trades

With that aforementioned core of young position players, the only former members of "The Core" that have been traded away are Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro. Year after year of trade rumors and yet as of this writing, guys like Schwarber and Russell and Happ remain in Cubs uniforms.

Will that change this winter? Obviously we don't know for sure, but it seems as likely as at any other point in the last few offseasons.

Reading the tea leaves, it would make sense for the Cubs to deal away at least one of those core members this winter to either bolster the bullpen or restock the farm system. 

For starters, the offensive dip in the second half could portend the need for change. It's very hard for a big group of young hitters to all develop on the same path at the same pace, which means the learning curve can lead to prolonged slumps that occur all at the same time — which we've seen often the last few seasons. 

Epstein was also candid about how the players aren't quite as happy with Maddon's ever-changing lineup as they once were which also means the Cubs probably have to shed some of their depth at some point if they truly want more stable playing time. Almora or Happ can't sit on the bench five times a week without completely inhibiting their development path.

The Cubs also showed exactly how they feel about this group of hitters when they went out and acquired Daniel Murphy in August, stressing the need for his "professional at-bats" in the lineup on a consistent basis at the most important time of the season.

Free agency

The Cubs will have World Series expectations in 2019, so once again, they figure to be big players in free agency. Even if they don't wind up with Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, they will at least kick the tires on the two superstars since they're clearly in the market for improved offense.

But beyond the big fish, the Cubs need to add to the bullpen, bolster the lineup, acquire some more shortstop depth and potentially even add a veteran backup catcher to help give Contreras more regular rest. All those moves could come from the free agent market.

Addison Russell

Will he be back? Even if he is still on the Cubs roster at the start of next year, would he make it through the year? The Cubs may eventually trade him, but why give up on him at a time when Epstein said it's important for the organization to support Russell and his value is also the lowest it's ever been? Strictly thinking in a baseball sense, he could be a perfect midseason trade piece.

Regardless of what happens with Russell, there is some change for the Cubs in that for the first time ever, Javy Baez will enter the official offseason as the clear starter at shortstop next year (at least for the first month). 

Defensive puzzle

Whoever the Cubs add this offseason to help the lineup and subtract from the roster that ended 2018 will still have to fit in the same defensive puzzle somehow. For example, if the Cubs signed Machado, they could slot him in at shortstop a bunch, which opens up Baez to float and play second a bunch or third, which moves Bryant to the outfield, which moves Schwarber to the bench. And on and on with any potential move the Cubs make this winter.

On the other hand, taking guys away from the current defensive puzzle also would have ripples throughout the rest of the roster. For example, if Happ is traded away, that also removes a switch-hitter and a guy with a ton of defensive versatility away from the roster. What does that do to the depth chart in the outfield or at third base? 

Starting Rotation

There might not be any change in terms of additions to the Cubs' rotation ahead of 2019, but that's not to say there won't be any movin' and shakin'.

Assuming the Cubs pick up Cole Hamels' $20 million option — which they should and probably will — that will leave them with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Hamels, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Drew Smyly and Mike Montgomery all under contract for next season and all projected to be healthy enough to pitch by the start of spring training. (Before you ask: yes, the Cubs are planning on Smyly as a starter right now; Epstein said as much in September.)

Lester, Hendricks and Quintana are locks for the Opening Day rotation, as is Hamels if that option is picked up. Darvish will surely be in the rotation, too, assuming he's fully over the elbow/triceps issue that limited him to only 40 innings in his first year in Chicago.

So what will the Cubs do with Smyly, Chatwood and Montgomery? Smyly will be on an innings limit in 2019 after missing the last two years due to Tommy John, so it's possible the Cubs opt to switch gears and just throw him in the bullpen to start the year. They may do the same with Montgomery, but will the veteran lefty be OK with that after publicly admitting he wants to start at various points over the last year-plus? Would Chatwood be OK in moving to the bullpen or would the Cubs just move him if he is still having command woes? 

Epstein and Hoyer often remind you can never have too much pitching, but in a way, the Cubs may have too much starting pitching on their roster for 2019 taking up a big part of the team's payroll. Is it possible we'd see a guy get moved this winter as a result? You never know.

40-man roster

This is the most mundane area, as every team makes pretty significant changes on their 40-man roster each offseason — even under the radar. There will always be shakeups with players getting DFA'd to create room for new additions, prospects added to the 40-man roster so as to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, etc. 

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?