Peter Gammons: Dust still settling over the Jason Heyward deal

Jason Heyward

It all began with a happy day, a press conference to celebrate Jason Heyward’s eight year, $184M signing with the Cubs. Because he left more money on the table from the Cardinals to leave St. Louis and joined John Lackey in Chicago, there was bound to be a National League Central rivalry element to the story, but within days it had blown into Heyward against the Cardinals and their “aging core” and Mike Matheny’s ruffled response that Heyward’s words were “not going to ring too well” with his former teammates.

All in 140 characters, or less.

“The funny thing is that I talked to several of my Cardinal teammates and they understood why I signed with the Cubs, and were very supportive,” says Heyward. “They know I wasn’t saying anyone’s ability was in decline. Yadier Molina is a Hall of Famer. That was a great team to play for. The clubhouse was tremendous, and I strongly believe in the atmosphere and the makeup of the clubhouse. I will always appreciate the support I had there from all the players.”

“But I went to the Cardinals because I was traded there,” he says. “I enjoyed it. I came up with the Braves because I was drafted by the Braves. This was the first time I had the decision to make. I looked at it as if I’m going to be there for six, seven or eight years, who are going to be my teammates? I’m 26 years old, and would like to build something for the long term with teammates. Anthony Rizzo (who was born one day before Heyward two months before the Cubs played the Giants in the NLCS) is going to be here. Kris Bryant is going to be here through 2020 or 2021. Kyle Schwarber. Addison Russell. Javier Baez. Jorge Soler. We have a chance to play together and maybe win championships for a few years. That’s important to me.”

When Heyward came up with the Braves, he got to play with Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and mentions clubhouse presences like David Ross and Eric Hinske. By Opening Day, 2015, the only player left was Freeman.

Now the Cardinals face decisions in the next year or two on Matt Holliday, Molina, Adam Wainwright, Jhonny Peralta. Some or all of them could well be gone. “Don’t get me wrong,” says Heyward. “The Cardinals are going to keep winning. They are a great organization, and the way young players like Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk came up and contributed to winning 100 games is a testament to the players and the Cardinals’ organization. But I have a pretty good idea what it’s going to be like with the Cubs for the next four, five or six years.”

“The press conference was supposed to be about the Cubs.”

In 140 characters and headlines, it blew downstate to be about the Cardinals. “I read Mike Matheny’s comments, and given the context, I understood and respected what he said because of the way it was presented to him,” Heyward says. Jason did not see some of the posts on Twitter and assorted websites, mostly from Cardinal fans, some obscenity-laced, some personal, some ugly. It came down to the the reaction to a star-level player leaving the “best fans in baseball” for less money to play for the hated rival that defeated the Cardinals in the NLDS, and since social media and most sports websites do not discourage obscenity and sell anger, he was the perfect target in a month when the Cardinals offered him $200M and David Price $190M and each made his decision to sign elsewhere.

As Jason Heyward says, over and over, the Cardinals are still going to be very good without him. They have a half-dozen bigtime pitching prospects that will likely start the season somewhere from Memphis to Peoria. Every level of the organization from John Mozeliak to Matheny to Player Development Director Gary LaRocque is state of the art, in thought and practice.

But when a man plays six years in the major leagues, reaches free agency at the age of 26 and has a choice that involved $184M or $200M and that person is as thoughtful as Jason Heyward, the factors that determine that decision can’t be expressed in 140 characters. “I didn’t have to think about a ‘wrong’ decision,” Heyward says, because either the Cubs or Cardinals was going to be right.

That Heyward, Lackey and Ben Zobrist chose the Cubs is about the Cubs. But, hey, this is all part of rivalries. Johnny Damon implanted his body on The Wall to win a world championship for Boston and was booed when he returned a Yankee. For now, Jason Heyward is the highest paid player in Cubs history, an honor that comes with a flak jacket.

Comments

  1. Brock Landers says:

    He’ll be the subject of boos, many boos, no doubt. Hopefully the lunatic fringe will keep it civil. It’s like your girlfriend dumping you for your hated adversary. We’ll see how he likes playing day baseball, and now, under a lot of pressure. The Cubs are expected to win, he’s the big free agent prize, and the drunks of Wrigley won’t be kind if he starts off like he did in St.Louis in 2015. Wong, Grichuk, and Piscotty do compare to Bryant, Russell, and Schwarber, but certainly not apple to apple. And the Cardinals have an abundance of live arms in the minors just a year or 2 away from the big leagues. It’s going to be a fun summer, especially watching the Cubs face pressure. And if the injury bug bites (they were virtually injury free last year) I’ll enjoy watching Super Joe manage.

    • Add Soler and Baez to the list. And they (Wong/Piscotty/Grichuk) don’t really compare to be clear. Those guys on the Cards are very good players, but the true upside (not reached yet mind you) of the 5 young guys + RIzzo by the way is different than anything else out there.

    • It’s painfully iron how you single out Wrigley Field drunks. The reaction from “the best fans in baseball” when Heyward signed with the Cubs was atrocious. It was absolutely shocking,. Yes the Cubs are expected to win but it’s not on Heyward’s shoulders. Rizzo and company share it quite evenly amongst some of the youngest and brightest stars in baseball. Not a team out there save the Astros could compare their level of young talent position by position to the Cubs. I’m not going ti say the Cubs are the best team in baseball, but they are damn good and it has the Cardinals nervous.

    • Alan Griffin says:

      Virtually injury free? They were the 12th most fortunate team in the league which puts them around league average.

  2. People need to stop saying he took less money to play for the Cubs. It’s a narrative heyward is trying to drive but it isn’t true. He is getting more aav to play in Chicago. The Cubs offered him more per year including 2 opt outs. In the end he will make more money by taking the Cubs deal than he would have taking the cards deal. It was about the money

  3. He said it himself, he was forced to play in St. Louis, he chose to play with the Cubs. He gave the Cardinals the big middle finger and now all of their fans are crying like wimps. I love it.

  4. Hudson Valley Slim says:

    1908. And the Cubs still have a rabid fanbase. If they bring home a flag, those players, coaches, office, etc. will become icons. What player wouldn’t want that, especially as this club is loaded? I love the Cards – my dad played on their farm team many years back, but it’s not that they were heavily invested in Heyward. They knew the deal. The Cardinals always know the deal.

  5. Jason Heyward appears to be a thoughtful and polite human being. He originally gave an honest, respectful and straightforward response around his rationale for selecting the Cubs. Sometimes recruiting FAs is about selling the situation that the player is going to be in for years as well as making a strong financial offer. If the Cardinals thought that the StL situation sold itself and they leaned heavily on their financial offer then so be it. The result is they didn’t close the deal. Blaming Heyward because the StL sales job didn’t get them to the results they wanted seems a bit beneath the Cardinal organization.

    • Jerry Martin says:

      Puzzling how Heyward, Lackey and childhood Cardinals fan Ben Zobrist chose not to play in baseball heaven. I mean that is the ultimate snow job, er, sales job, right? Really looking forward to all these guys making large contributions toward the NL pennant with Chicago. That’s really why all three of them chose the Cubs, plain and simple. Epstein’s Cubs are at the beginning of a long term shift in the central division and everyone knows it. Baseball heaven won’t sell anymore.

      • Theo & Company took what could have been a negative – not winning in 107 years – and sold it as positive. Selling the opportunity to be part of the last great championship pursuit is pure genius. It has the added advantage of getting the FAs to take less money. StL is a great organization but in this case they’re just player hating – no pun intended. BTW, StL didn’t complain when Theo tanked 3 seasons and the Cards were flying high.

  6. Here’s the thing: StL is a great organization but act like one, right? Heyward is one player. He got away, so go get another one. That’s what great organizations do. The Cards have $200M, a farm system and 29 other teams to trade with. Why are they sweating Jason Heyward and the Cubs. Go be great!

  7. JamesAllen says:

    “F*ck those f*ckin’ fans who come out here and say they’re Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you, rippin’ every f*ckin’ thing you do. I’ll tell you one f*ckin’ thing, I hope we get f*ckin’ hotter than sh*t, just to stuff it up them 3,000 f*ckin’ people that show up every f*ckin’ day, because if they’re the real Chicago f*ckin’ fans, they can kiss my f*ckin’ ass right downtown and PRINT IT.

    They’re really, really behind you around here…my f*ckin’ ass. What the f*ck am I supposed to do, go out there and let my f*ckin’ players get destroyed every day and be quiet about it? For the f*ckin’ nickel-dime people who turn up? The motherf*ckers don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the f*ckin’ game. They oughta go out and get a f*ckin’ job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a f*ckin’ living. Eighty-five percent of the f*ckin’ world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here. A f*ckin’ playground for the cocks*ckers. Rip them motherf*ckers. Rip them f*ckin’ cocks*ckers like the f*ckin’ players. We got guys bustin’ their f*ckin’ ass, and them f*ckin’ people boo. And that’s the Cubs? My f*ckin’ ass. They talk about the great f*ckin’ support the players get around here. I haven’t see it this f*ckin’ year. Everybody associated with this organization have been winners their whole f*ckin’ life. Everybody. And the credit is not given in that respect.

    Alright, they don’t show because we’re 5 and 14…and unfortunately, that’s the criteria of them dumb fifteen motherf*ckin’ percent that come out to day baseball. The other eighty-five percent are earning a living. I tell you, it’ll take more than a 5 and 12 or 5 and 14 to destroy the makeup of this club. I guarantee you that. There’s some f*ckin’ pros out there that wanna win. But you’re stuck in a f*ckin’ stigma of the f*ckin’ Dodgers and the Phillies and the Cardinals an all that cheap sh*t. It’s unbelievable. It really is. It’s a disheartening f*ckin’ situation that we’re in right now. Anybody who was associated with the Cub organization four or five years ago that came back and sees the multitude of progress that’s been made will understand that if they’re baseball people, that 5 and 14 doesn’t negate all that work. We got 143 f*ckin’ games left.

    What I’m tryin’ to say is don’t rip them f*ckin’ guys out there. Rip me. If you wanna rip somebody, rip my f*ckin’ ass. But don’t rip them f*ckin’ guys ’cause they’re givin’ everything they can give. And right now they’re tryin’ to do more than God gave ’em, and that’s why we make the simple mistakes. That’s exactly why.”

    • Lee Elia! Cubs manager under the “Building A New Tradition” regime of Dallas Green. Wow! You did the rant word for word. I don’t think many Cubs fans remember that.

  8. All this is is a mind game by Matheny and a classic example of Cardinals baseball. Matheny is still asserting his control over Heyward by making these comments and indirectly keeping control over him by the comments he made about Heywards former teammates. Heyward, Cubs players AND ESPECIALLY Chicago media need to completely drop this and treat it like a non story or Matheny continues to have some type of control over Heyward.