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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.

[RELATED - Joe Maddon feels like Cubs won baseball lottery again with Jason Heyward]

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."

2019 MLB Power Rankings: It's almost time to get mad about All-Star snubs!

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USA Today

2019 MLB Power Rankings: It's almost time to get mad about All-Star snubs!

It's almost exactly halfway through the season, and if you've been following these rankings, you'll know the tiers have been set for some time now. As the All-Star break gets closer, it's the middle of the pack that has a big couple of weeks coming up. Looking at you, Pittsburgh or St. Louis or Cleveland or Texas or Oakland or Philly. Make something happen, or suffer the ultimate fate: falling an arbitrary number of spots in a MLB Power Ranking slideshow you're certainly not clicking through. There is no worse punishment. 

Want to see where your very good or very bad or maybe in the middle team ended up this week? To the rankings!

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2019 MLB POWER RANKINGS, PLEASE

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."