Cubs

Once Cubs got in the picture, sounds like Cardinals didn’t have a shot with Jason Heyward

Once Cubs got in the picture, sounds like Cardinals didn’t have a shot with Jason Heyward

ST. LOUIS – The boos started during pregame introductions on Monday night, even with stretches of empty red seats throughout Busch Stadium. It only took the public-address announcer mentioning Jason Heyward’s name and his image appearing on the big video board in right-center field framed by the Gateway Arch.

If The Best Fans in Baseball still feel jilted after The Decision – or tired of all the hype surrounding the Cubs – know that the St. Louis Cardinals probably couldn’t have done anything to change Heyward’s mind. 

A 5-0 win highlighted why Heyward switched sides in a rivalry that’s becoming the Midwest version of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, signing an eight-year, $184 million contract for the chance to play at Wrigley Field, experience Chicago and win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.

“Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” Heyward said. “If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave.”

Heyward – who got traded from the Atlanta Braves after the 2014 season and has spent less than 19 percent of his big-league career in a St. Louis uniform – got booed before his first at-bat. A sellout crowd of 45,432 cheered when Heyward (0-for-4) struck out looking against Mike Leake.  

Heyward also got booed again after making diving catches in right field, showing off his Gold Glove defense to take away hits from Matt Holliday and Kolten Wong in the first and seventh innings.

Heyward’s comments during his welcome-to-Chicago press conference in December struck a nerve in St. Louis, where he saw the core of catcher Yadier Molina, pitcher Adam Wainwright and outfielder Matt Holliday eventually splitting apart. 

“A hundred percent” that was blown out of proportion, Heyward said. “It wasn’t about age for me. It’s just about the fact that some guys’ contracts will be coming up. Some guys will not be here for 10 years.

“In Atlanta, my first three years, I feel like we had a great core group with some guys that did some special things in this game and are still doing some special things in this game. 

“It was kind of a heartbreaking feeling/experience for me that the business broke us up that quickly. And dealing with the process of figuring out where I’m going to go free agent-wise, I just felt like Chicago was going to give me a great opportunity to be with these guys for the majority of my contract.”

The exact figures are unclear, but both the Cardinals and Washington Nationals were believed to have made offers in the neighborhood of $200 million, with Heyward leaving bigger guarantees on the table. Heyward framed his opt-out clauses after the 2018 and 2019 seasons as a compromise once the Cubs only agreed to give him full no-trade protection through the first three years of his contract.  

“Absolutely, absolutely,” Heyward said, the Cardinals were willing to do whatever it would have taken to get a deal done. “They had their intention (of) keeping me here. They said that – and they followed through with their actions. That’s all anybody can ask for.

“It didn’t come down to contracts, whether it was opt-out (clauses), whether it was full no-trade (rights) or what have you. It just came down to taking the opportunity – to be where I wanted to be and for the first time in my life having a choice.”

Heyward described playing in St. Louis as an “awesome experience,” called his former teammates “my boys” and predicted his old team won’t fade away anytime soon. The Cubs will face the Cardinals 18 more times this season and what a rematch this would be in October.

“They don’t really rebuild in St. Louis,” Heyward said. “There’s a lot to be said about teams like the (San Francisco Giants keeping) certain groups together for a long time. I feel like I was a little bit late to the party (with) this St. Louis group. 

“Some guys are going to be moving on soon. It’s nothing to do with their age. It’s not me saying they can’t go out and hit a fastball or they can’t go make a play or Yadi can’t do anything behind the plate. 

“It’s got nothing to do with that. It’s just I’m not going to be there physically with them, bonding with them, jelling with them for the majority of a 10-year contract term.”

Or as Alfonso Soriano – who used to shrug off the weight of having the biggest contract in franchise history with a huge smile on his face – liked to say: “They don’t boo nobodies.”

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: