Cubs

Can Jason Heyward handle the pressure of largest contract in Cubs history?

12-21-jason-heyward-cubs.png

Can Jason Heyward handle the pressure of largest contract in Cubs history?

There's no question Jason Heyward makes the Cubs a better team.

But is he worth $184 million?

It's a question plenty of people will try to answer throughout the length of Heyward's eight-year, $184 million deal - the largest contract in Cubs history.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

There's plenty of pressure for Heyward to "live up" to that megadeal, but he's not focusing on the dollars and cents.

"Every time money comes up, I feel like the media talks about it way more than I'm thinking about it," Heyward said at his introductory press conference in Chicago last week. "I'm just happy to have the opportunity to play this game for at least eight more years, hopefully more than that.

"That's the most important thing for me. There's the business side that as players, we don't like at times. But that's also the side that rewards you for staying healthy and being a good person in the clubhouse and bringing things to the game on a daily basis.

"You just want to be appreciated for that at the end of the day. ... For me, nothing's going to change."

The Cubs haven't yet cashed in on the ridiculous sum of money coming from all the new TV deals around Major League Baseball, but it was clear this was a move Theo Epstein's front office wanted to make, regardless of the contract.

The Cubs know all about what Heyward can do after seeing him up close and personal on a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in both the regular season and postseason in 2015.

"Every game after we played the Cardinals," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said, "I'd go down to talk to [Cubs manager Joe Maddon] and he was always just buzzing about Jason after the game and how much he impacted the game.

"Every time you looked at something on the field, Jason was a part of it. That's the kind of player we want."

Epstein also spoke highly of how the 26-year-old fits in so well with a young Cubs core that is expected to mature and grow together.

[MORE - Theo Epstein believes Cubs are selling themselves now]

The Cubs believe he personifies their brand of baseball and even though Heyward is getting paid like a middle-of-the order hitter, in reality, he doesn't have to become anything more than what he already is as a player.

Heyward may never develop 30-homer power or drive in 100 runs or become the most feared bat on the North Side of Chicago. But he does just about everything on the diamond really well and takes particular pride in his work in the outfield.

"On defense, I can affect the game every pitch," he said. "But on offense, I only get one at-bat or the at-bat comes around only so many times a game. On defense, there's 27 outs you need to make in nine innings to win a ballgame and I'm not asleep for any of those.

"I try and do what I can to help my team, whether it's cutting a ball off, throwing somebody out, making a nice diving play. You can score 10 runs, but if you can't stop somebody from scoring 11, you're not going to win."

Heyward is a natural right fielder - probably the best defensive right fielder in the game right now - but he's all for moving to center field for 2016, allowing the Cubs to keep the bats of Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler in the lineup at the corner outfield spots.

Heyward said his final contract would not just be about money and he proved it when he left offers of at least $200 million on the table to sign with the Cubs for less overall money.

But part of the reason why Heyward chose the Cubs as a destination was not just because of the young core, but the opportunity to do something historic, the chance to go down forever in baseball lore.

[RELATED - Cardinals don't appreciate Jason Heyward's reason for signing with Cubs]

Whoever is on the Cubs team that finally ends the championship drought will never be forgotten and that kind of glory is enticing for any competitive person.

However, being a Cub also comes with a different kind of pressure - that of curses and Billy Goats and black cats and Steve Bartmans.

Heyward knows that history, but he doesn't seem to care, immediately brushing off the "curse" talk when a Chicago reporter asked him about it following the opening press conference.

"I'm going to blame you for keeping that going," Heyward said to the reporter before moving on to discuss how he believes this is a franchise that can now move past all the talk of curses. "You see changes in the culture here.

"You see them getting younger. You see them spending a lot of time and detail in the young players coming up as well as the players that you bring in via free agency. Taking those strides, I feel like, go a long way.

"That's how you change a culture within a team. You see the Dodgers, Royals, Giants do it. ... I feel like Theo and Jed and the Ricketts family have done an outstanding job of being hungry in the sense of they want to take those strides to go win.

"They're not just talking about it; they're doing it."

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

mark_prior.jpg
USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.