Mesa, Arizona – Already impressed by what he saw watching Jason Heyward play, something else stood out to Joe Maddon during their initial phone conversation.
It was Heyward’s maturity and understanding of the game. Those qualities made it easy for Maddon to envision him in the Chicago Cubs’ lineup.
“We had a really good conversation,” Maddon said. “It revealed to me a lot of what I thought I was seeing. He was a very thoughtful, intellectual kind of a baseball player.”
They talked about Heyward playing center field after winning three Gold Gloves in right, his spot in the batting order and his base running. To Maddon, he seemed like someone who enjoyed chatting. To the Cubs, he ultimately became one of their biggest offseason additions.
Heyward signed a $184 million, eight-year contract, hoping to help bring a championship to a franchise that last won the World Series in 1908.
The Cubs gave a strong indication last season that the drought could be in its final stages, breaking out with 97 wins and advancing to the NLCS. They appear loaded to make another run with newcomers such as Heyward, infielder Ben Zobrist and pitcher John Lackey added to a team that already boasted NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant.
And there’s also Manager of the Year Maddon.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of good teams, I’m fortunate enough to say that, in my career,” Heyward said. “You understand that regardless of what it looks like on paper, we gotta go out there and play and we all understand that here in the clubhouse. But we’re all looking forward to trying to work toward one goal.”
Heyward has been drawing praise from all sections of the clubhouse.
“He’s really smart, really advanced,” Anthony Rizzo said. “The way he talks about the game is just impressive.”
Maddon sees a player wise beyond his years at 26.
“I need to do what I can on a daily basis, whether it’s running, whether it’s coming up with a big hit, whether it’s hitting a home run, whether it’s making a play on defense, whether it’s just talking about something throughout the game to kind of shine some light on something that we might need and make an adjustment,” Heyward said. “Just do what I can and then the next guy’s gonna do his job, and we’re all gonna take that seriously as individuals and a good product will come out of that.”
Heyward finished with 13 homers while batting .293 in his lone season with the Cardinals, but Maddon believes his production will increase in Chicago.
“You have a guy 26, set him free, man,” Maddon said. “Let him go. Have good conversations with him. Understand what he’s trying to do out there. Who would not want to work with an athlete like that? Oh my god, that is exactly what you’re looking for to work with. And he’s bright and he’s engaging and he’s fun.”