Growing up as a fan of the Oakland Athletics helped Chicago Cubs infielder Nico Hoerner brace for the departure of Kyle Schwarber.
“I had (an autographed) ball with Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Daniel Hudson and Dan Haren,” Hoerner recalled Saturday, 10 days after the Cubs elected not to offer Schwarber a contract after six seasons in Chicago.
For veterans such as right fielder Jason Heyward, who was traded from his hometown Atlanta Braves to the St. Louis Cardinals one year before becoming a free agent after 2015, job security is precious with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting finances and payrolls across Major League Baseball.
“You ain’t lying,” said Heyward, who owns full no-trade rights because he has at least 10 years of service time, including the last five with one team — the Cubs. “It’s a tough time to be a free agent right now.
“It’s a tough time in general in the sports industry. Especially with the market they’re talking about, not having fans and so on.”
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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down baseball in mid-March, the Cubs were assessing their future with Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Schwarber due to become free agents after the 2021 season.
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“Either way, we knew the business side was going to come from this group,” Heyward said. “It happens with every group.”
The ever-patient Heyward believes personnel changes can test the resolve of returneespositively, as they did last season when the Cubs returned to the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.
“A lot of guys got a taste of not making the playoffs (in 2019),” Heyward said. “Many guys had down years in 2020, and we still won (the National League Central), a tough division. You have new respect for that.
“That’s where you’ve got to start. You want an opportunity to get into the postseason and go forward. That’s the mindset. You can’t win the World Series without getting into October. Next season, that’s the immediate goal.”
Pitcher Adbert Alzolay and Hoerner will get an opportunity for bigger roles after performing well in snippets.
“I think iron sharpens iron,” Heyward said. “You’re going to have David Ross as the manager. As far as I know, I’m still going to be here. I have a lot of say so in that. I want to be here. I want to continue to grow in this organization as they accepted me. I think we can do some special things here.”
Heyward and Hoerner espoused the sentiment that Schwarber’s departure was disappointing because of his contributions on the field and as a teammate.
“You hope you have a situation where you don’t want to leave where you are,” Heyward said. “But if you do have to go when that time comes, you appreciate what you have and move forward.
“I wish him the best. If he’s back here, it’s awesome. If not. I wish him the best going forward and think he’s going to establish himself in this game and make more history.”
Said Hoerner: “I love Kyle Schwarber. I wish him the best, whether he’s with us or someone else. That’s a guy any locker room is lucky to have, and I’m lucky I got to play with him.”