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Why Jason Heyward chose Cubs over Cardinals

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Why Jason Heyward chose Cubs over Cardinals

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."

[MORE CUBS: Cubs buy championship influence with Lackey, Zobrist, Heyward]

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.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

"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."

Cubs, MLB persist as high-profile COVID-19 cases reported across baseball

Cubs, MLB persist as high-profile COVID-19 cases reported across baseball

A reporter asking Cubs manager David Ross about the COVID-19 news out of Atlanta on Saturday used the word “shocking” to describe it.

But there’s nothing left to shock us about this pandemic — not spiking coronavirus infection rates across large swaths of the country, a national death toll of 132,000 or even one of the biggest stars in the National League being stricken with what looks like a tough case of the virus.

Freddie Freeman’s case — which prompted the Braves first baseman’s wife to take to Instagram to plead for Americans to take the virus seriously and to wear masks — is a sobering reminder the needle baseball is trying to thread during a pandemic and potentially instructive for the Cubs and other teams.

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Most of you might know by now... Freddie tested positive for Covid-19 last night. He has had body aches, headaches, chills and a high fever since Thursday. He is someone who literally never gets sick and this virus hit him like a ton of bricks. We’ve been really strict for the last 4 months. Haven’t gone to a grocery store, haven’t gone out to dinner once, haven’t seen our friends and only allowed family at our house and we still got it. So far, Charlie, Carol and I are ok. We appreciate all the messages and prayers, please keep them coming for healing and protection for the rest of our family. 🗣Please take this virus seriously, wear a mask when in public and wash you hands frequently.

A post shared by Chelsea Freeman 📍OC & ATL (@chelseafreeman5) on

It’s also especially personal to Cubs such as Ross and right-fielder Jason Heyward, both former Freeman teammates.

“It definitely hits closer to home,” said Heyward, who texted with his former roommate.

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But shocking?

If anything, the shocking part of Saturday was that the Cubs played a baseball game — albeit, a short intrasquad game that featured scoreless pitching performances by Kyle Hendricks (three innings) and Yu Darvish (two), and double to the left-center gap off Darvish by Javy Báez.

MORE: Why the Cubs were ready for an intrasquad scrimmage on Day 2 of Summer Camp

For an hour or two of practice before that, and the hour or so of “game,” it looked almost normal.

Then the masks were back, the players washing and scattering and planning to try to make it happen without incident one more time on Sunday. Then Monday. Then Tuesday and so on.

“We all know some of us are going to test positive coming into this,” Heyward said.

In fact, that’s the most shocking part of MLB’s startup of summer training camps this week: Only 1.2 percent of the first 3,185 intake tests of players and other personnel produced positive results — a clear victory for league-wide discipline and apparent respect for safe practices.

On the other hand, those results didn’t include all of the intake testing done during the week. They also didn’t include the positive tests of players and staff that teams already were aware of — including at least 12 from the Phillies more than two weeks ago.

And a cautionary detail of Freeman’s case is that he reportedly tested negative during intake testing — before getting hit “like a ton of bricks” by the virus Thursday, according to his wife’s Instagram post.

“Literally, we just take this thing day to day,” Ross said. “We’re all to some extent worried what the next day may bring. So, this is an added stress to the season. 

“All the guys are on board with following the protocols and understanding that’s what it takes to keep everybody safe as possible.”

The Cubs have done as good a job of respecting protocols and preparing for this moon shot of a 60-game MLB season this summer as anyone in the game. They didn’t have a player test positive during intake testing.

“We know it’s going to be very different this year,” Hendricks said. “But we’re embracing all the changes, following everything we can follow and just lucky we can be playing baseball again.”

But even while the Cubs experienced what Hendricks called their “a little sense of normalcy with everything that’s going on” during a drama-free day of baseball under a sunny sky at Wrigley Field, the Phillies added ace pitcher Aaron Nola to the COVID-19 injured list, the Yankees reported that former batting champion DJ LeMahieu was one two Yankees to test positive, and the Dodgers announced that former Cy Young winner David Price had become the sixth known player to opt-out of the 2020 season (after reconsidering the health risk to himself and family).

And even before the Freeman news broke out of Atlanta — which also included three other positive tests and a coach (former Cub Eric Young) opting out — the Royals announced that the American League’s most decorated catcher, Salvador Perez, also had tested positive.

Does all of it mean baseball can’t pull off the next 15 weeks or so of training, regular-season and full schedule of playoffs?

Maybe not. But it's at least a stark reminder that MLB had a tenuous grasp at best on controlling its ability to make it happen, that every day of this process is a high-alert stress test with no assurances under conditions of perfect behavior league-wide.

And then it starts over the next morning.

“The pandemic is in control,” Cubs president Theo Epstein stressed when talking about baseball’s undertaking a few days ago.

That’s why on a Saturday when new infections in the country topped 50,000 for the third consecutive day, news out of Atlanta — or New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or any other stricken baseball locale — was anything but shocking.

Maybe baseball can navigate this shaky moment during the startup and avoid enough of the growing spread of this virus to have more days like the Cubs had on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Wrigley.

Maybe even enough of those days to reach October — maybe even enough to turn this “new normal” into something truly shocking.

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Why the Cubs were ready for an intrasquad scrimmage on Day 2 of Summer Camp

Why the Cubs were ready for an intrasquad scrimmage on Day 2 of Summer Camp

The American flag waved in the breeze over an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Wrigley Field. It wasn’t the production the venue had come to expect on Fourth of July.

“This is one of those days that screams America’s pastime,” Cubs manager David Ross said.

Without fans in the stands, the whirl of the press box ceiling fans filled the silence between pitches. But any kind of baseball on the holiday was a victory during the coronavirus pandemic. It was just the second day of Cubs Summer Camp, and already the team had advanced to game simulations. Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks each took the mound, Darvish for two innings and Hendricks for three, with half the Cubs donning white jerseys and the other half blue.  

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"There's no substitute for live looks," Ross said.

The fact that Darvish and Hendricks were ready to throw multiple innings bodes well for the Cubs. From examining the results of a shortened 1995 Spring Training, some in baseball are concerned that this season’s schedule could put pitchers at higher risk for lower-body soft-tissue injuries.

“Overall as a group, we did an unbelievable job talking to individual guys of staying on routine, staying on programs,” Hendricks said of the pitching staff. “A lot of guys threw a lot throughout the quarantine. I feel really good where I’m at as far as schedule-wise. I think I can say the same for most guys around here.”

Hendricks stayed in Arizona after Spring Training shut down, which even gave him opportunities to throw to live batters before reporting to Summer Camp.

During the hiatus, hitters also faced restricitons when looking for batting practice. Ross said everyone on the team at least had a tee and a net to hit into, but several found opportunities to stand in against live pitching in Arizona, including Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and Ian Happ.

“I think more than we were expecting, as players,” Jason Heyward said. “And I don’t say that in a way of not wanting to work, but just given the situation, we all want to be careful. I’m just happy guys found a way to do that.”

Heyward said during the break he only had one day of live batting practice before returning to Chicago a little over a month ago. But he settled in quickly on Saturday, hitting a hard ground ball into center field for the first hit of the game.

Technically, the two-and-a-half inning scrimmage ended in a scoreless tie. But it had some quirks.

“The pitch counts will be limited per inning,” Ross said before the game, “so we may clear the bases if we need to.”

They did. Hendricks loaded the bases in the top of the second inning. But he was saved by the pitch count as Anthony Rizzo stepped up to the plate.

“I put up a zero, so that’s what I’m going to take from it,” Hendricks said, laughing. “I wasn’t wanting to get off the field there, no. I’m sure (Rizzo) wasn’t either.”

Light-hearted boos sounded from the first-base dugout as the Blue team jogged in to grab their gloves.

“I think everybody had fun out there” Hendricks said.

 

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