Jason Heyward will be the polarizing figure in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry for at least the next three years.

Heyward will be a constant reminder of what could have been for the Cardinals and their St. Louis fanbase, representing something of a changing of the guard as the big-name free agent opted for a franchise that hasn't won a World Series in 107 years over an organization that is consistently among the MLB's elite.

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The 26-year-old outfielder left money on the table (the Cardinals reportedly made an offer close to $200 million) to sign with the Cubs for the most lucrative contract in franchise history (eight years, $184 million).

"As everyone may have seen from the numbers that came out, I didn't take the highest offer," Heyward said in his introductory press conference in Chicago Tuesday afternoon. "But for me, a winning attitude and culture and the fact that this was such a young group that I could grow myself with and be 26 years old.

"I would rather grow up with a bunch of guys and make them family and be able to cherish that for the rest of the day without feeling like I had to restart."

At several points during his "Welcome to Chicago" presser, Heyward cited the Cubs' young core as a huge reason for choosing the corner of Clark and Addison as his home for at least the next three years (his contract includes opt-outs after the third and fourth seasons).

 

The Cubs have Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler all under team control through at least the 2021 season.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have several aging veterans - Heyward mentioned Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright by name - as part of their core.

"I felt like if I were to look up in three years and see it's a completely different team, that would be kind of be different for me," Heyward said. "Chicago really offers me an opportunity to come in, get introduced to the culture by a young group of guys.

"I'll grow up with them and watch them grow and have some fun with some familiar faces for a long time."

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Heyward also liked how loose the Cubs kept things during a surprising run to contention in 2015, experiencing playoff baseball at Wrigley Field firsthand during the National League Division Series.

"You saw those guys having fun over there just like I was doing on the other side of the field," Heyward said. "We all brought out the best competition in each other. With the young group that [the Cubs] have here, they didn't shy away from it. And that's special to see.

"It says a lot about the leadership, coming down from ownership to the front office to Joe [Maddon] and the things he's instilling with them on a daily basis to let them know that they're good and they belong."

Heyward said playing for a manager like Maddon is just "icing on the cake."

Cardinals fans were seen burning Heyward jerseys on social media and his mentions on Twitter over the last few days are not for the faint of heart.

Heyward took the high road and said he doesn't have one bad thing to say about the Cardinals, but immediately went back to his decision and the desire to go to the best environment for him long-term.

It also helps that Heyward could be immortalized in baseball lore if he is a part of the team that finally - finally - wins a championship for the Cubs.

With last season's run to the NLCS fresh in everybody's mind and a young core that now has a full season in the big leagues under its belt, a run to the World Series isn't just a pipe dream anymore. "The Plan" Theo Epstein's front office has talked about for years looks like it has finally come to fruition for the Cubs.

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"Good team or bad team, this city gets behind the Chicago Cubs," Heyward said. "Playoffs, of course, helped me see that firsthand. ... But the Cubs being so young, having a great core of guys and the intelligence of everybody involved saying they want to be able to put that kind of core group together going forward for a long time, for me, that sold it.

 

"It's a beautiful thing, to win a World Series. I'm a baseball player and that's what I strive to do every year. To do it in this city, it's a no-brainer that you'd be making history. That would be awesome.

"You see what Theo did with the Red Sox in 2004 and reversed the curse and kinda set the country upside down with that. It would be much like that here. I feel like it would be a much greater impact.

"My mindset is always to win a World Series and I feel like I have a great opportunity to do so with this group we have here."

The Cubs believe they made the right investment in Heyward, even if they don't yet have a new TV deal and needed to get creative to make the financials work.

"We want to add players who are going to help us win the World Series," Epstein said. "Jason Heyward, I think everyday that he comes to the park - in some form or another - contributes to winning baseball.

"And we believe will ultimately contribute to a World Series title."