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Emma: Jason Heyward An Ideal Fit For Thriving Cubs

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In through the doors of a swanky Michigan Avenue restaurant walked the Cubs' new free-agent prize. Jason Heyward looked every bit the five-tool player who garnered eight years and $184 million to play in Chicago.

The Cubs have yet another tremendous talent for their roster, one more piece for that incredibly bright future. Tuesday afternoon at Spiaggia Restaurant felt like a de facto celebration for the franchise and its newest face.

But as the Cubs rolled out the red carpet for their new star, it became clear the glitz and glamour isn't for him. Heyward came across not as another savior for the Cubs but as a warm, kind 26-year-old kid who happens to be one heck of an outfielder.

"I'm blessed to be here and blessed to say I play the game I love for a living," Heyward said.

This comes from a sincere place, too. When asked about his monumental money, Heyward brushed it off and spoke of the greater importance in finding the right fit. Questioned about the nonsensical billy goat and Cubs' history of futility, he turned to the unbelievable promise inside Wrigley Field. Everything seemed right for Heyward in his new home.

Heyward wouldn't be in Chicago if he cared more about the money or logistics. He had an offer of about $200 million from the Cardinals but instead chose to join Theo Epstein's Cubs, making that $184 million a discount of sorts. Instead, Heyward was sold on the Cubs' fit.

Seated before the assembled media, Heyward pointed to his family watching proudly in the first row, then of the fit of joining a Cubs organization. He sees that as a family, too.

"I didn't take the highest offer," Heyward said. "I can grow with this group."

In saying no to the Cardinals after a successful 2015 season with them, Heyward did so in part because he wouldn't know which teammates would be his for the long-term future. Matt Holliday is 35, Adam Wainwright is 34 and Yadier Molina is 33, with each battling various injuries. Locking in for a long-term deal with St. Louis wouldn't have offered the security he wanted for a clubhouse culture.

Heyward wanted a place in which he could thrive and grow up with, too. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is one day older than Heyward, while Kris Bryant is 23, Kyle Schwarber is 22 and Addison Russell is 21.

The Cubs added a player who recorded an 6.5 WAR in 2015, a career-best mark. He joins second baseman/utilityman Ben Zobrist and right-hander John Lackey among other signings this offseason that bolster a team that was already one of the best in baseball. Now, it's fair to say the Cubs are better.

Chicago offers Heyward something unique, as he does for the organization.

"It's incredible," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said of Heyward's ideal fit for his ballclub. "As Theo said, to actually go to the free-agent market to get younger is unheard of."

Added Epstein: "One of those rare guys who makes his teammates better."

Epstein doesn't have to fret the signing of Heyward, knowing he added a proven player in the prime of his career. This wasn't a gamble like investing in a pitcher's fragile arm. It was a no-brainer of a signing. The fact that his contract is backloaded to when the Cubs' television money kicks in after 2019 makes it even sweeter.

One year ago to the date, Cubs brass was in same room at Spiaggia Restaurant and unveiled Jon Lester, their $155-million ace. The feeling then was that Lester provided a chance for the Cubs to compete in 2015. As it turned out, they won 97 regular-season games and reached the NLCS.

The sentiment in Heyward's introduction was that this was the step for a World Series team. The Cubs added yet another young phenom to their core, alongside Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, Russell and more. Combine that with Lester and NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, and the Cubs are a championship favorite.

"Realistically, we believe that we have a great chance at winning our division and going all the way," Ricketts said.

"Obviously, the goal is to pull it across the finish line. We got to win the World Series."

Questions about winning brought a smile to Heyward's face. That's what he wants in Chicago.

Heyward cherished the chance to join the Cubs in fighting for that elusive World Series. He felt that drive from Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon, plus the like-minded demeanor of the team's young core. In Chicago, Heyward is surrounded by those who function as he does.

As Heyward said, he was sold.

"It would be a beautiful thing to win a World Series," Heyward said. "To do it in this city, it would be making history."

Chicago is about to embrace an elite player who happens to be a special person, too. The Cubs are extraordinarily fortunate for the newest addition to their thriving organization. Now, they'll work together to reap the rewards.

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page


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