Heyward prepared to shift to center for Suzuki

March 17th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Not long after news spread on Wednesday that the Cubs were working to bring Japanese slugger Seiya Suzuki into the fold, veteran Jason Heyward headed out to center field at Sloan Park for defensive work.

Heyward is a five-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field, but he has shifted positions in the past. Down the stretch in 2019, when Chicago traded for right fielder Nick Castellanos, Heyward moved to center to accommodate the move.

With Suzuki likely heading to right field, Heyward is willing to switch again.

"Same situation here," Heyward said at his locker on Thursday morning. "I was prepared to do that coming into this season, not knowing if we would sign somebody, if we would or not. The fact that we brought in a right fielder, I think it's nice that I've had some situations where I've moved to center field."

The Cubs and Suzuki have reached an agreement on a five-year, $85 million contract, pending physical, sources told MLB.com. Once the move is official, Cubs manager David Ross will have an outfield puzzle to piece together.

For the past two seasons, Ross has kept Heyward in right field, where the veteran remains a plus defender. His career numbers in center are solid (seven Defensive Runs Saved with a 4.8 UZR/150 in 1,251 career innings), but he has not manned that spot since '19. In 603 1/3 innings in center that year, Heyward had -2 DRS with a -4.4 UZR/150.

"The main thing for me is that he's comfortable. He'll work," Ross said. "He's a worker. He's already been preparing for that, to be able to move around. He's known his flexibility is important to me. So just having that conversation and being on the same page does make me relax a little bit, but it wasn't anything I was worried about. He's as pro as it gets."

As things currently stand, the Cubs' outfield picture also features Ian Happ, who can play center but is a better defender in left field. Happ also gives Ross a switch-hitting option. This spring, the outfielder has been slowed by a right elbow issue, but he is expected to be ready by Opening Day.

Chicago also signed Clint Frazier, who offers a righty bat for the corner-outfield spots. Rafael Ortega (139 wRC+ against righties last year) and Michael Hermosillo (.991 OPS against lefties between the Minors and Majors in '21) offer a platoon pairing for center, and are both versatile enough to play all three spots. Harold Ramírez is also on the 40-man roster as a righty-hitting bench option for the corners.

"We're going to need everybody, the whole 40-man roster," Heyward said. "It's nice to have some competition within ourselves, but it's going to be fun, because I do think that leads to a lot of competition for us against the rest of the league."

Barring a trade that clears some of the outfield logjam, the arrival of the universal designated hitter will give Ross one more offensive slot to help organize the lineup and defense.

"Yeah, the DH gives us another spot to be flexible," Ross said. "I see that as kind of a rotating position right now, giving guys that are swinging the bat well and a combination of rest in that area.

"And so, I don't think I have that defined yet for our group, but it does allow me, yeah, a lot of flexibility to keep an extra bat in there and kind of keep guys fresh."