If you would have told fans of the Dodgers at the conclusion of last year’s World Series that someone like Jason Heyward would be a key part of the 2023 Opening Day roster, they probably would not have believed you. After all, with a packed house like Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Trayce Thompson, Chris Taylor and an emerging James Outman, there wasn’t much room for additions.
However, the Dodgers decided to part ways with Bellinger, prompting the need for some kind of additional experience in the outfield, at least from the standpoint of defense. When the smoke finally cleared at the onset of spring, the club secured David Peralta on a one-year deal and snagged Jason Heyward on a minor league pact. For additional security, there was a contingency plan in place consisting of Bradley Zimmer and Steven Duggar, plus J.D. Martinez, who hasn’t flashed his outfield glove in almost two seasons.
Is There Anything Left in the Tank?
Heyward is interesting because he’s only three years removed from his 2019 season when he hit a productive .251/.343/.429 with the Cubs, collecting 21 long balls, 20 doubles and driving in 62 runs in the process. He has five career Gold Gloves under his belt, signifying that he’s more than capable on defense, even in his age 33 season.
The lefty-hitting New Jersey native had a decent start to spring camp and Cactus League play, leading skipper Dave Roberts to reveal early that Heyward would most likely be a part of the active roster come Opening Day. Nevertheless, Heyward’s decline in output over the last month saw him produce a paltry .20/.304/.415 slash line this spring. Obviously, numbers are usually unimportant in Cactus League, but one can probably assume that Heyward will be a part-time outfield option, taking a backseat to the core group of Betts, Thompson and Outman.
Heyward may end up sticking around until he either hits his stride or gives the team no other option but to let him go due to productivity. If he ends up rediscovering his swing, he’ll be a steal since the Cubs are still paying for his salary and the Dodgers will be on the hook only for the league minimum.
Heyward still needs a spot on the organizational 40-man roster, but that task should come easy when the club places Gavin Lux on the 60-day disabled list in the coming days.
Anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s for how Heyward will produce during the upcoming season. If he embraces his role and proves his value, his playing time could increase, or vice-versa if he’s unable to contribute. Of all the big predictor engines, Steamer is the friendliest, indicating a .231/.310/.372 slash line with nine homers and 38 RBI over 99 appearances and 320 AB.
At this stage, the outfield could be a work in progress for the Dodgers and conceivably be an entirely different animal at the stretch run of the regular season. If guys like Peralta and Heyward end up not producing, it could possibly open the door for someone like the lefty-hitting Michael Busch to make his MLB debut, whether at second base or left field. Similarly, if Taylor continues to produce inconsistently on offense, it could warrant the team to make a significant splash at the summer trade deadline, primarily at shortstop.