The focus for months has been on roster holes to fill and which big-name player might be coming next for the Cubs.
But whether the Cubs head to spring training with a new starting pitcher such as Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb, or even a new closer such as Greg Holland, the list of questions to answer involving guys already on the roster is just as long and might loom just as large.
The three-day meeting of organization and fan-base minds this past weekend at Cubs Convention only served as a strong reminder of that – whether involving questions about the leadoff spot, closer role or Kyle Schwarber’s new-and-improved waistline.
But the $184 million elephant in the room as the Cubs get to Mesa, Ariz., in less than a month figures to be Jason Heyward.
His modest improvement last year after miserable production in 2016 needs to accelerate under new hitting coach Chili Davis to keep him from becoming a payroll burden during what should be at least another four years for this Cubs’ competitive window.
Davis, who has been working in Arizona at least weekly with Heyward since November, wasn’t hired specifically with Heyward in mind. But team president Theo Epstein suggested his line-drive approach as a big-league hitter has a chance to resonate.
“He’s another voice and a really good hitting coach,” said Epstein, who had no plans to replace hitting coach John Mallee until Davis became available when he was fired in a coaching staff shakeup in Boston (the Cubs also nabbed ex-Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield).
“He works well with guys who are line-drive hitters who drive the ball more so than maybe guys that launch the ball,” Epstein said. “So they have a good chance to mesh. We’ll see.”
As Heyward begins to age out of traditional career-prime years after this season, this may be the last, best shot for him to find the physical adjustment or mental approach to becoming the hitter the Cubs envisioned when they signed him.
Davis said he has spent more time evaluating and communicating with Heyward and Kyle Schwarber than any hitters in his new group.
“I need to learn Jason more so than Jason needs to learn me,” said Davis, a three-time All-Star who had a .360 on-base percentage and 350 home runs in 19 big-league seasons.
“We’ve talked a lot about his swing, and we’ve looked at videos,” he added, “but I think more so what Jason and I are trying to do is to get Jason to understand the type of hitter that will make him the best offensive player that he can be.”
Davis said he thinks Heyward has drifted away from some of the natural ability he showed early in his career, when he hit 27 homers with an .814 OPS for Atlanta in 2012 as he tried to make adjustments.
“We’re trying to bring him back a little closer to that,” he said. “But I’m a hitting coach. I don’t see fastballs and sliders and all that anymore. It’s going to be up to him.
“One thing we stress a lot every day with him is working with a…