(CBS) Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward’s swing overhaul this offseason is continuing in earnest, and the organization continues to praise him for his work and approach.
Heyward bought a house in the Phoenix area and has been working on his swing at the Cubs’ complex in Mesa, Ariz. for weeks now. The prize of the Cubs’ offseason a year ago when he signed an eight-year, $184-million deal that brought with it high expectations and plenty of scrutiny, Heyward hit .230 with seven homers, 49 RBIs, a .306 on-base percentage and .631 OPS in 142 games. Each of those statistics marked a career-worst for the 27-year-old Heyward.
In December, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Heyward was working on “critical changes.” Those are coming along, assistant general manager Shiraz Rehman said last week in an interview with Dan Bernstein on 670 The Score
“Really working his behind off,” Rehman said. “He’s out there with some of our hitting coaches and just really working his tail off. Like you said, it’s not so much a reinvention as it is allowing things to slow down a little bit in the offseason and get a chance to do things that are a little more mechanical tweaks and get back to the player I think he was. And it allows you to do things like get enough repetitions to change that muscle memory and get yourself an ability to rejigger your swing a little bit in a way that’s really hard to do in the season. So all the credit to him in the world in how he handled himself this year and really getting after it well before your average bear is out at a spring training complex.
“He takes a lot of pride in what he does, and he’s excited for next year. We’re really excited for him having that attitude toward this offseason.”
Rehman also addressed how the Cubs avoid complacency as an organization after winning a championship, pointing out that it starts at the top, where president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is “the most competitive person I’ve ever met.” Such an attitude is in the clubhouse DNA as well that trickles down from manager Joe Maddon.
“It’s a fair question,” Rehman said. “Every team that wins a championship has to worry about it. When you’re able to break a 108-year-old curse, that next-year question is probably even more prescient. I’d say a couple things. We do have to be aware of it. We do have to make sure we’re setting the right tone. Joe does such a great job with the players at kind of managing them, leader-of-men-type stuff and keeping them motivated. I think he did an amazing job this year with all the expectations that were heaped on those guys starting about a year ago. I have no doubt he’ll do that.
“From a front-office side, it’s funny. It starts at the top. Theo is probably the most competitive person I’ve ever met, and Jed (Hoyer) is certainly no slouch. It kind of goes from there. I think all of us are pretty competitive in that sense. As much as we have enjoyed the celebration and enjoyed talking about winning, I think one of the things we’ve all talked about over the last couple months is how we feel a little behind the eight-ball on planning for 2017. We got a lot of work to do. We got a lot of minor league free agents to sign and other issues to solve with the big league team. I don’t think you’re going to see anyone letting up on the accelerator on the front-office side.
“Just back to the players again, I think one of the things that was most impressive with them this year was how they managed the expectations we talked about all year and then kind of rising to the occasion multiple times in some pretty epic scenarios in the playoffs. I just think the makeup of our team — we’ve been so fortunate — is so good that I don’t see our group being that struggles with that too much.”
You can hear Rehman’s full interview on the Boers and Bernstein audio page here, under Dec. 30, Hour 5. He also talks about how the Cubs replace the leadership that David Ross provided, among many other topics.