CHICAGO (AP) — Jason Heyward knows Theo Epstein ended a long championship drought in Boston and understands how epic it would be to bring a title to Chicago’s North Side.
“It’d be a beautiful thing to win a World Series,” Heyward said Tuesday after finalizing a $184 million, eight-year contract with the Cubs, the largest deal in team history. “To do it in this city, it’s a no-brainer that it would be making history. You see what Theo’s done with the Red Sox in 2004 and sort of reverse the curse, kind of set the country upside down.”
After adding pitchers John Lackey and Adam Warren along with infielder Ben Zobrist, the Cubs introduced Heyward at Spiaggia Restaurant, a favorite of President Barack Obama and the same place where they held a news conference for Jon Lester exactly one year earlier after signing the pitcher to a $155 million deal. Chicago still seeks its first Series title since 1908.
“We saw it as a real unique opportunity,” said Epstein, who left Boston in October 2011 to become the Cubs’ president of baseball operations. “We feel like Jason is a real impact player because of how talented he is in all the different phases of the game.”
Heyward has the right to opt out of the deal after three seasons and become a free agent again at age 29, having earned $78 million under the deal with the Cubs. He also has a conditional opt out after the 2019 season, if he has 550 plate appearances that year.
He receives a $20 million signing bonus, payable in four $5 million installments each April 1 from 2024-27. He gets salaries of $15 million in 2016, $21.5 million in each of the next two years, $20 million in 2019, $21 million apiece in 2020 and 2021 and $22 million in each of the final two seasons.
Heyward has a full no-trade provision through 2018, then during 2019 and 2020 has 12 teams he cannot be dealt to without his consent.
If he remains with the Cubs, after the 2020 season he would have the right to block any trade because of he would be a 10-year veteran who has spent five seasons with his current team.
Because the signing bonus is paid after the expiration of the contract, Major League Baseball evaluated the deal as having a present-day value of $177,633,616.
Chicago won 97 games last season, then beat NL Central rivals Pittsburgh in the wild-card game and St. Louis in the NL Division Series. Heyward said he didn’t watch the Cubs’ celebration but did get a glimpse at the playoff atmosphere at Wrigley Field. The Cubs then were swept by the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series.
As busy as they have been since then, the Cubs still have flexibility because they did not part with any of their top prospects.
“That does allow us — whether it’s this winter or trade deadline or next offseason — to be I think a threat to make significant trades that can help the ballclub going forward,” Epstein said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to happen the next couple of months. We feel great about the team as it is constituted now.”
The Cubs plan to use Heyward in center field, with occasional time in right. Corner time is more likely if the Cubs trade Jorge Soler for a center fielder.
An All-Star in 2010, Heyward hit .293 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs last season. He helped St. Louis win the NL Central after spending his first five big league seasons with Atlanta.
The Cubs are counting on him to help strengthen a batting order that includes young sluggers Anthony Rizzo, NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber along with Addison Russell.
Heyward had more lucrative offers. But the Cubs’ youth and the presence of manager Joe Maddon were two big reasons why he left St. Louis for Chicago even though he does not expect the Cardinals to fade from contention anytime soon.
“I felt like if I were to look up in three years and see a completely different team, that would kind of be different for me,” Heyward said. “Chicago really offers an opportunity to come and really be introduced to the culture by a young group of guys, grow up with them and watch them grow up and still watch myself grow up and have some fun with familiar faces for a long time.”