Once all of his suitors made their financially generous overtures, it became clear to outfielder Jason Heyward that no matter what baubles and clauses the Cardinals were willing to add they could never offer what he truly wanted.
They didn’t play in Chicago.
They didn’t have the Cubs’ young players.
“It came down to Chicago was really where I would like to be at the time,” Heyward said Monday. The Cardinals “made a trade for me. They traded a couple good pieces. I feel like they had every intention of keeping me here. They said that. And they followed that through with their actions. It didn’t come down to contract. Whether it was the opt-out, whether it was the full no-trade (clause), or what have you — it came down to taking the opportunity to be where I wanted to be and for the first time in my life having the choice.”
For the first time since making that choice, Heyward sat in the dugout on the other side of Busch Stadium and explained, in new detail, why he picked the rising Cubs’ eight-year, $184 million contract over the established Cardinals’ offer, which he said had appealing elements.
He mentioned his fondness for the division and his wish to grow with a peer group locked in place, which he felt the Cubs had over other interested teams.
The Cubs entered Monday’s series opener in first place, off to a 9-3 start. Heyward brought into the game a .205 average with as many total bases this season (11) as strikeouts (11).
That average dropped to .196 after he went hitless in his first two at-bats as a Cub at Busch. His first at-bat started with boos and ended with cheers. He was lustily jeered as he stepped to the plate, and the shouts turned to applause when he was called out looking at a strike 3 from Mike Leake.
Heyward was booed again when he made a sliding catch in right field to rob Matt Holliday of a base hit, and then booed a third time when he came up in the third inning to groundout.
“If somebody boos me here then that means they were not happy to see me leave,” said Heyward, who hit a career-high .293 and won a Gold Glove with the Cardinals. “I’m kind of glad that people weren’t happy to see me leave St. Louis.”
If anything, that’s because it’s new for the fans — and the club.
The Cardinals are used to being a destination franchise, especially after spending a year recruiting a player to be a part of their future.
“If I didn’t give him enough in 8½ months of having to look at me every single day, what more am I going to tell him over the phone that he hasn’t already seen up close and personal?” manager Mike Matheny said about Heyward’s free-agent time. “As much as we talk already, he knows what I’m about, he knows what the expectations are here, he knows what the city is about. He had all the information needed about the St. Louis Cardinals. Just because he knows all that stuff doesn’t necessarily mean that he likes it.”
“He made a judgment not based on the offer but where he’d rather play,” Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. “It’s unusual for us to lose a player when we’ve been competitive.”
Heyward was believed to have two offers around $200 million. One would have been from the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals’ offer also would have approached that. The Cardinals offered Heyward more guaranteed money than the Cubs, according to three sources with knowledge of both contracts. The Cardinals were willing to include an opt-out clause, as they have with other free agent players. The Cardinals’ offer had more total years than Chicago’s, and the Cubs had a higher annual average value, especially before the first opt-out, two sources confirmed.
Heyward can opt out after 2018 or 2019, and he explained Monday that the second opt-out clause was negotiated because the Cubs did not want to give him a full no-trade for the life of his contract.
The Cardinals’ offer had one, he and other sources have said.
Heyward called the no-trade clause “the biggest thing” and “something I wanted to have wherever I went.” The Cubs sweetened the financial potential of their deal to compensate. It wasn’t just his contract that concerned Heyward. With the Cardinals he saw players like Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday nearing the ends of theirs, while in Chicago 26-year-old Anthony Rizzo and 24-year-old Kris Bryant are beginning theirs.
“There is a lot to be said like the Giants and the Phillies that kept certain groups together for a long time,” Heyward said. “I feel like I was a little late to the party in that sense of this St. Louis group. It has nothing to do with their age. It’s not me saying they can’t go out and hit a fastball, they can’t go out and make a play. It’s got nothing to do with them.”
Heyward stressed that several times.
It wasn’t choosing against the Cardinals; he had a choice.
“Timing is everything,” Heyward said. “When it came down to making a choice, I felt like why not go try this city, Chicago? You don’t know what’s going to happen as far as the World Series or playoffs, but I do know that I’ve always loved playing there, loved playing at Wrigley Field. Why not go try that for 81 games in the regular season instead of just visiting? Go see what happens.” TNS